Education

Visitors to the 700-seater Flavors food court can choose their reasonably priced meals from more than a dozen separate outlets, each offering a different type of cuisine from Southeast and East Asia, including Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian, Korean and Japanese. It is not even the biggest dining area, either: a further three 850-plus-seat canteens and numerous smaller restaurants and cafes are dotted around the university’s Modernist campus. In total, they feed about 50,000 people each day, serving a meal every 1.4 seconds on average.

…While the incredible variety of dining options on campus might seem incidental to this success, [recently retired president] Tan believes that it has played an important role in the university’s improvement on his watch.

“These are not just places where you eat — it’s where students and staff linger, mix and also learn from each other,” he said, adding that this element of campus life is “a cultural dimension that makes Singapore special.”

Here is the full story from Jack Grove.

The authors are Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson, and now it is out!

Robin reports:

On press coverage, back in July Publishers Weekly had a paragraph on it, the Boston Globe did an interview of me back then that they just released, Vice interviewed me recently so I expect that out soon, and I’m told that a Wall Street Journal review is forthcoming. Amazon now has 5 reviews, Goodreads has 7, and 2 reviews have appeared on blogs.

I am pleased to be doing a Conversation with Robin about the book, and other matters too.  But don’t forget — conversations aren’t about talking!

Michel Serafinelli and Guido Tabellini have a new paper on that question, here is the abstract:

Creativity is often highly concentrated in time and space, and across different domains. What explains the formation and decay of clusters of creativity? In this paper we match data on thousands of notable individuals born in Europe between the XIth and the XIXth century with historical data on city institutions and population. After documenting several stylized facts, we show that the formation of creative clusters is not preceded by increases in city size. Instead, the emergence of city institutions protecting economic and political freedoms facilitates the attraction and production of creative talent.

Recommended.

A while ago I promised you my take on Bloomberg View [BV], and why I decided to work for them.  They don’t know I am doing this post, I don’t in any official or even unofficial way speak for Bloomberg View or for the broader company, and I hope they don’t get mad at me for attempting this brief capsule treatment.  And it is fine if you wish to dismiss this as biased pleading, because it is.

One of the most striking features of BV, from my personal point of view, is how many of the writers I was actively reading and following before they started with BV.  For instance:

1. A few years ago I tracked down Adam Minter for a Sichuan lunch in Shanghai, to talk with him about recycling, China, the metals trade and used goods, and his general take on things.  Adam is one of the very best writers for mastering small, apparently obscure details, based on years of personal travel and research, and then showing how they reflect broader and more important truths.  Adam later started writing for Bloomberg.

2. Megan McArdle and I have had periodic lunches and chats since I first met her in 2004 (?), when I was presenting an early version of Stubborn Attachments to Victor Niederhoffer’s Junto seminar in New York City.  She was one of the very first economics bloggers, along with John Irons and Brad DeLong.  The next time I see her we will again debate when and whether the world is going to end, and whether Panda Gourmet really does have the best cold noodles in Washington, D.C. (yes).

3. I met up with Christopher Balding for a lunch in Hong Kong, as he came over from Shenzhen.  I was a fan of his China blog and research, and lo and behold Christopher ended up writing for Bloomberg.  Here are his New Year’s resolutions.

4. Cass Sunstein is one of the polymaths of our time, and the #1 cited legal scholar, not to mention a Star Wars fan, and I interviewed him for Conversations with Tyler.  I don’t have to tell you where he writes now, or that his favorite musician is Bob Dylan.

5. I’ve had periodic email contact with Stephen R. Carter, of Yale Law School, as the two of us share many common interests and reading habits.  He’s now with Bloomberg View.

6. Virginia Postrel is a “dynamist” thinker of major significance, and I’ve been following her work for more than twenty years.  I hope she does more with the topic of textiles.  Here is a 2014 video she and I did together (mostly her) on the topic of glamour.

7. A few years ago, Noah Smith and I decided to get together at the AEA meetings, most of all to talk about Japan (Noah is fluent in Japanese and lived there for a good while).  He was then still a professor before he made the decision to work for Bloomberg full-time.  Last year, I took a long Uber ride to meet Noah for Thai food in Berkeley.

8. Conor Sen started blogging, and I thought: “This guy is awesome and has unique perspectives rooted in finance and housing and demographics and Atlanta.”  Soon enough, Bloomberg hired him.  Conor deservedly made this list of the year’s most interesting people.

8. I was a fan of Stephen Mihm’s work on history and economic history, before he started with BV.

9. And now we have Ramesh Ponnuru and Michael Strain, two of the very best market-oriented, right of center yet also eclectic columnists.

I don’t mean to neglect all the other people who write for Bloomberg View, as this list is determined by whom I knew before there was any Bloomberg connection.  As for some of the others, Leonid Bershidsky is an amazing polymath, the “every column is full of information” Noah Feldman has a new and wonderful book on James Madison, there is Joe Nocera and Justin Fox and Barry Ritholz, and I am trying to schedule a Conversation with the great Matt Levine, who always knows more than you think he does, even after taking this clause into account.  When I met Matt I simply uttered: “Matt Levine, only you can do what you do!”  Is any other greeting required?

One day I woke up and realized these people write for Bloomberg View, or that people like them were going to, and then it occurred to me that maybe I should too.  And there are still Bloomberg View writers I haven’t really discovered yet.  (By the way, one reason all these people are so good is because of the consistently excellent editors.)

What is the common element behind all of these writers?  I would say that Bloomberg View tends to hire reading-loving, eclectic polymaths, with both academic knowledge and real world experience, and whose views cannot always be predicted from their other, previous writings.

Over the last year, I think I would nominate Ross Douthat as The Best Columnist.  But overall I think Bloomberg View has assembled the most talented and diverse group of opinion contributors out there, bar none.

On top of all that, BV is perhaps the least gated major opinion website.

In addition to the writing, I also very much enjoy working for a great company.  Not all media outlets can offer that.

Anyway, forgive the biased rant, that is my take for today!  They also serve nice snacks and have an amazing art collection in the NYC building.

We now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

Yes, we will be continuing and indeed expanding this series.  So I ask you all, which guests would you like to see on the show?  I do not promise to listen.

Building on an essay by Robert Nozick, here is Julian Sanchez:

If the best solutions to social problems are generally governmental or political, then in a democratic society, doing the work of a wordsmith intellectual is a way of making an essential contribution to addressing those problems. If the best solutions are generally private, then this is true to a far lesser extent: The most important ways of doing one’s civic duty, in this case, are more likely to encompass more direct forms of participation, like donating money, volunteering, working on technological or medical innovations that improve quality of life, and various kinds of socially conscious entrepreneurial activity.

You might, therefore, expect a natural selection effect: Those who feel strongly morally motivated to contribute to the amelioration of social ills will naturally gravitate toward careers that reflect their view about how this is best achieved. The choice of a career as a wordsmith intellectual may, in itself, be the result of a prior belief that social problems are best addressed via mechanisms that are most dependent on public advocacy, argument and persuasion—which is to say, political mechanisms.

…If the world is primarily made better through private action, then the most morally praiseworthy course available to a highly intelligent person of moderate material tastes might be to pursue a far less inherently interesting career in business or finance, live a middle-class lifestyle, and devote one’s wealth to various good causes. In this scenario, after all, the intellectual who could make millions for charity as a financier or high-powered attorney, but prefers to take his compensation in the form of leisure time and interesting work, is not obviously morally better than the actual financier or attorney who uses his monetary compensation to purchase material pleasures.

Here is the full essay, via Jeffrey Flier.

I could just rewrite my post How to understand modern China, but change the examples.  But you can do that mental exercise yourself, and besides it is easier to access information about India in the English language.  So let me try a very specific recommendation for India:

Study Indian textiles and their history

I  found this the single most useful way to get a handle on Indian history, a bit less on contemporary India.  Here’s why:

1. The artistic side of textile history gives you a clear sense of regional differences, and also Islamic influence, or lack thereof.

2.. It focuses your attention rather immediately on the role of women and women’s work, and also how this interacted with industrialization.

3. In the early 18th century, India was a world leader at cloth production, but it lost this position by the early 19th century.  Studying textiles and cloth production offers an excellent window on their major story of economic decline, and how British import penetration, backed by colonialism, contributed to Indian deindustrialization.

4. Relatively poor and neglected regions of India, such as Bihar and Orissa, have a strong presence in Indian folk textile traditions, and you will learn plenty about them.

5. Books on textiles will explain the accompanying information about Indian history in a clearer way than will actual history books about India.

6. People who write books on textiles tend to be both clear and careful I have found, perhaps because they love and collect something delicate.

7. Studying textiles and cloth also brings you right to Gandhi’s “Swadeshi’ movement.

8. Unless your income is really quite modest, you can afford to buy and regularly view some pretty high-quality Indian textiles.  In India I’ve found some excellent pieces for as cheap as $200-$250.

9. Studying textiles also will bring to your attention India’s tribes and indigenous peoples.  And it ties in readily to India’s broader cultural influence throughout Southeast Asia.

10. Textile books have many pretty pictures.

My favorite books on Indian textiles are cited in my discussion of that topic in Creative Destruction: How Globalization is Changing the World’s Cultures.  But it’s more a question of reading a bunch of them, rather than picking out a select few.  Simple, direct searches will get you to where you need to go.

My favorite collection of Indian textiles is in the Victoria & Albert museum in London.  Sadly, I’ve yet to get to the Calico textiles museum in Ahmedabad, though it is very highly regarded.

Yes, yes, I know patents are not the right measure, that is what we’ve got:

I exploit historical natural experiments to study how establishing a new college affects local invention. Throughout the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, many new colleges were established in the U.S. I use data on the site selection decisions for a subset of these colleges to identify “losing finalist” locations that were strongly considered to become the site of a new college but were ultimately not chosen for reasons that are as good as random assignment. The losing finalists are similar to the winning college counties along observable dimensions. Using the losing finalists as counterfactuals, I find that the establishment of a new college caused 32% more patents per year in college counties relative to the losing finalists. To determine the channels by which colleges increase patenting, I use a novel dataset of college yearbooks and individual-level census data to learn who the additional patents in college counties come from. A college’s alumni account for about 10% of the additional patents, while faculty account for less than 1%. Knowledge spillovers to individuals unaffiliated with the college also account for less than 1% of the additional patents. Migration is the most important channel by which colleges affect local invention, as controlling for county population accounts for 20-40% of the increase in patenting in college counties relative to the losing finalists. The presence of geographic spillovers suggests that colleges do cause an overall net increase in patenting, although I find no evidence that colleges are better at promoting invention than other policies that lead to similar increases in population.

That is from new research by Michael J. Andrews, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

The annual job market scramble at the AEAs is about to begin. To help you through the madness, Marginal Revolution University, Planet Money and MobLab have teamed up to bring you an overview and guide, featuring Al Roth (on a treadmill), Josh Angrist, Betsey Stevenson and much more!

When you have finished the video you can find tips and links to job market advice at the bottom of this page. Good luck!

Or do we misallocate talent when it comes to innovation?  Here is a not so famous but very interesting paper by Murat Alp Celik:

The misallocation of talent between routine production versus innovation activities has a fi rst-order impact on the welfare and growth prospects of an economy. Surname level empirical analysis employing micro-data on patents and inventors in the U.S. between 1975-2008 combined with census data from 1930 reveals new stylized facts: (i) people with “richer” surnames have a higher probability of becoming an inventor, however (ii) people with more “educated” surnames become more proli fic inventors. Motivated by this discrepancy, a heterogeneous agents model with production and innovation sectors is developed, where individuals can become inventors even if they are of mediocre talent by excessive spending on credentialing. This is individually rational but socially inefficient. The model is calibrated to match the new stylized facts and data moments from the U.S. economy, and is then used to measure the magnitude of the misallocation of talent in innovation. A thought experiment in which the credentialing spending channel is shut down reveals that the aggregate growth rate of the economy can be increased by 10% of its value through a reduction of the misallocation. Socially optimal progressive bequest taxes that alleviate the misallocation are calculated, which serve to increase the growth rate of the economy to 2.05% while increasing social welfare by 6.20% in consumption equivalent terms.

I am not so persuaded by the idea of buying your way into innovative circles with credentials, or the analysis of the inheritance tax, but nonetheless this should stimulate thought.

forthcoming study in the Journal of Economic Perspectives doesn’t use any of those terms and explicitly says it must not be read as an “indictment” of tenure. But it suggests that research quality and quantity decline in the decade after tenure, at least in economics.

The authors of the paper — Jonathan Brogaard, an assistant professor of finance at the University of Washington at Seattle; Joseph Engelberg, professor of finance and accounting the University of California, San Diego; and Edward Van Wesep, associate professor of finance at the University of Colorado at Boulder — started with a question: “Do academics respond to receiving tenure by being more likely to attempt ground-breaking ‘homerun’ research and in this way ‘swinging for the fences?’”

After all, they wrote, “the incentives provided by the threat of termination are perhaps the starkest incentives faced by most employees, and tenure removes those incentives.” (The question is sure to annoy academic freedom watchdogs. In the authors’ defense, they do cite the benefits of tenure, including job stability’s potential to encourage risk taking.)

Looking for answers, Brogaard, Engelberg and Van Wesep collected a list of academics who worked and were tenured in economics or finance departments at 50 top-ranked institutions at any time between 1996 and 2014. The final sample included 980 professors, all of whom were tenured by 2004.

Here is the link.

Due to TV, which shows us “false families,” we overrate the importance of the environmental and underrate the importance of genetics:

But here’s a totally different explanation for popular misconceptions about nature and nurture.  Throughout most of human history, if you knew someone, you usually knew his family as well.  When you grow up in a village, you make friends; and once you make friends, you regularly interact with their relatives.

In the modern world, in contrast, we are much less likely to meet the family.  You almost never meet your co-workers’ families.  And you often barely know the families of your close friends.  Perhaps strangely, most of the families that we “know” well are the fictional families of popular culture.  The Pritchetts.  The Bluths.  The Whites.  The Sopranos.  I’ve spent more time with the Simpson family than every family besides the Caplan family.

So what?  Well, with rare exceptions, the actors who comprise t.v. families aren’t even remotely related.  Do your ancestors come from the same continent?  Then by t.v. logic, you could be brothers – and we’re conditioned not to find the fictional relationships ridiculous.  Furthermore, since drama rests heavily on conflict and contrast, every family member gets a distinctive personality and social niche.  What t.v. family has three studious kids – or three class clowns?  Even a show like Shameless blends full-blown degenerates with nice people to handle damage control.

The result: We have little first-hand familiarity with actual biological families.  But popular culture fosters that illusion that we do.  Most of the biological families that we “know” are in fact adopted all the way down.  The main exception being kids’ roles where two twins play the same role to ease compliance with child labor laws!

That is from Bryan Caplan.

Michael R. Ransom and Tyler Ransom have a new paper on this question:

We examine the extent to which participation in high school athletics has beneficial effects on future education, labor market, and health outcomes. Due to the absence of plausible instruments in observational data, we use recently developed methods that relate selection on observables with selection on unobservables to estimate bounds on the causal effect of athletics participation. We analyze these effects in the US separately for men and women using three different nationally representative longitudinal data sets that each link high school athletics participation with later-life outcomes. We do not find consistent evidence of individual benefits reported in many previous studies – once we have accounted for selection, high school athletes are no more likely to attend college, earn higher wages, or participate in the labor force. However, we do find that men (but not women) who participated in high school athletics are more likely to exercise regularly as adults. Nevertheless, athletes are no less likely to be obese.

The pointer is from the excellent Kevin Lewis.  Kevin also refers us to this paper: “…the large portion of the variance in a four-item economic egalitarianism scale can be attributed to genetic factor[s].”

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

That’s the WaPo piece everyone is abuzz about.  A few observations:

1. This story may well be true, but I’d like more than “…according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing.”  Here is another account of what exactly is known.  Wasn’t “not publishing the article until it is better sourced” the evidence-based thing to do?

2. I don’t have a great fondness for the terms “evidence-based” or “science-based.”  When they are used on MR, it is often as a form of third-person reference or with a slight mock or ironic touch.  When I see the words used by others, my immediate reaction is to think someone is deploying it selectively, without complete self-awareness, or as a bullying tactic, in lieu of an actual argument, or as a way of denying how much their own argument depends on values rather than science.  I wouldn’t ban the words for anyone working for me, but seeing them often prompts my editor’s red pen, so to speak.  The most er…evidence-based people I know don’t use the term so much, least of all with reference to themselves.

3. In any case, the suggested replacement phrase — “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes” — I do not find offensive or anti-science, and I can imagine a plausible case that it is an actual improvement.  Science is (ought to be) value-free, yet CDC and more broadly federal policy should embody values too.  It should not think of itself as “the handmaiden of science.”

4. There is a fine line between “censorship” and “a bureaucratic organization which can be badly damaged by individual freelancing deciding to adopt uniform terminologies.”  I don’t doubt both might be going on here, but I’d like to see the extant Twitter takes show a little more subtlety on the broader point.  Don’t forget that the executive branch of government reports to the…executive, it is not a freestanding committee for debate, however much it might sometimes like to imagine otherwise.

5. The word “diversity” usually isn’t specific enough, or is channeling unstated preconceptions about how diversity should be interpreted.  We should improve our use of this word.  I have similar feelings about “vulnerable.”

6. People react to changes rather than levels.

7. “Fetus” — look, it is fine to disagree with the “pro-life view” (I’m not even sure what is the most neutral way of labeling it).  But is banning the use of the word “fetus” in institutional documents censorship?  What if an employee, during the Obama years, in an official CDC release had referred to a “fetus” as a “child”?  Would that have been changed back to fetus?  I am inclined to say yes.  Is it censorship in only one direction, or are both decisions censorship?  Or is this better seen as a disagreement over matters of fact?  A disagreement over values?  I am genuinely unsure, and I am unsure what a majority of the American public would think.  But I would say this is sooner worth a ponder than a rant.

8. If nothing else, Sam Altman can show up in China, post “here is my vulnerable entitlement diversity transgender fetus, who is evidence-based and science-based” on his Weibo account, and then go order some Chairman Mao’s braised pork belly.

9. What are the forbidden words in other parts of the federal government, whether de jure or de facto?  Will anyone be showing us a list?  Or is that list censored too?

Many are abuzz over Sam Altman’s short and politically incorrect blog post:

Earlier this year, I noticed something in China that really surprised me.  I realized I felt more comfortable discussing controversial ideas in Beijing than in San Francisco.  I didn’t feel completely comfortable—this was China, after all—just more comfortable than at home.

That showed me just how bad things have become, and how much things have changed since I first got started here in 2005.

It seems easier to accidentally speak heresies in San Francisco every year.  Debating a controversial idea, even if you 95% agree with the consensus side, seems ill-advised.

Nerd that I am, I am immediately reminded of the theory of price indices.  If you go to a new country with the same goods and prices as your home town, you won’t buy very much.  Alternatively, if your port of call has radically remixed relative prices, you will do lots of shopping and go home pretty happy.

And so it runs with shadow prices for speech, including rights to say things and to ask questions.  Whatever you are free to say in America, you have said many times already, and the marginal value of exercising that freedom yet again doesn’t seem so high.  But you show up in China, and wow, your pent-up urges are not forbidden topics any more.  Just do be careful with your mentions of Uncle Xi, Taiwan, Tibet, Uighur terrorists, and disappearing generals.  That said, in downtown Berkeley you can speculate rather freely on whether China will someday end up as a Christian nation, and hardly anybody will be offended.

For this reason, where we live typically seems especially unfree when it comes to speech.  And when I am in China, I usually have so, so many new dishes I want to sample, including chestnuts and pumpkin.

All of this will seem all the more true, the longer you have lived in your home base.  You will note also that price variability increases consumer surplus, so it is no wonder that Sam enjoys China so much.