Education

A group of Yale University graduate students announced Tuesday evening that they would be undertaking a hunger strike to pressure the administration into granting them better union benefits. The strike is taking place in front of University President Peter Salovey’s home.

“Yale wants to make us wait and wait and wait … until we give up and go away,” the eight members of the graduate student union Local 33 announced. “We have committed ourselves to waiting without eating.”

Yale doctoral students currently earn a stipend $30,000 a year, receive free health care, and have their $40,000 tuition paid in full, according to Yale News.

And yet there is an apparent catch:

As it turns out, the hunger strike might not put anyone’s health in peril. According to a pamphlet posted on Twitter by a former Yale student, the hunger strike is “symbolic” and protesters can leave and get food when they can no longer go on.

If you read through the whole link, you will see that the final story has yet to come out, so take this with…a grain of salt.  Unless of course you are on the hunger strike.  After reading through further accounts, my personal sense is indeed that no one at Yale is going to pull a Bobby Sands anytime soon.  In the meantime, the Yale Republicans have set up a barbecue right next to the strikers.

For the pointer I thank Supersonic Eli Dourado.

Advice vs. choice

by on April 30, 2017 at 12:05 pm in Economics, Education | Permalink

I do not consider this to be a confirmed result, still the basic mechanism is of interest, especially to analyses of complacency:

Despite the near universality of the maxim that one should treat others as one ought to be treated, even well-intended advisers often advise others to act differently than they choose for themselves. We review several psychological factors that contribute to biased advice. Absent pecuniary motives to the contrary, advice tends to be paternalistically biased in favor of caution. Policies that would intuitively promote quality advice — such as making advisers accountable, taking advice from advisers who value the relationship, or having advisers disclose potential conflicts of interest — can perversely lower the quality of advice.

That is from a paper by Jason Dana and Daylian M. Cain, via Rolf Degen.  Here is further commentary from Degen.

Hindu fact of the day

by on April 26, 2017 at 1:43 pm in Education | Permalink

96% of Hindus in the US have at least a college degree or its equivalent.

Here is the source.

But the revered Icelandic language, seen by many as a source of identity and pride, is being undermined by the widespread use of English, both in the tourism industry and in the voice-controlled artificial intelligence devices coming into vogue.

…A number of factors combine to make the future of the Icelandic language uncertain. Tourism has exploded in recent years, becoming the country’s single biggest employer, and analysts at Arion Bank say that half of new jobs are being filled by foreign workers.

…The problem is compounded because many new computer devices are designed to recognize English but not Icelandic.

“Not being able to speak Icelandic to voice-activated fridges, interactive robots and similar devices would be yet another lost field,” Mr. Jonsson said.

Here is the interesting NYT piece.

In general, I am skeptical of such results and their typical interpretations, still economics plays a role in this paper and perhaps it is worth at least a casual ponder:

The Dark Triad traits (i.e., narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism) have been associated with the desire for power, status, and social dominance in the workplace, and these desires have been hypothesized to draw Dark Triad individuals towards occupations affording such outcomes. Following this reasoning, the Dark Triad may also influence educational choices. Research in other personality traits has shown that Big Five traits impact educational choices: Students in different academic majors differ on Big Five traits at enrollment. The aim of the present study was to explore whether there are also pre-existing Dark Triad differences across academic majors. Accordingly, the Big Five and the Dark Triad traits were measured in a sample of newly enrolled students (N = 487) in different academic majors (psychology, economics/business, law, and political science), and mean scores were compared. Group differences in the Big Five personality traits largely replicated previous findings. Group differences in the Dark Triad traits were also found and included medium and large effect sizes with the largest differences being between economics/business students (having high Dark Triad scores) and psychology students (having low Dark Triad scores). These findings indicate that Dark Triad as well as Big Five traits may influence educational choices.

That is from Anna Vedel and Dorthe K. Thomsen, via Rolf Degen.

So which group is more rational?

If you were trying to assess a person’s rationality on the basis of one not-directly-verbal indicator, given his or her behavior over the course of a meal, what would it be?

And if you could ask only one question of a person, to assess his or her rationality, which question would it be?

That’s from me!  As for the first benchmark, you cannot refer to verbal answers to questions you might ask.  You could however nominate “the person hesitated for a long time before answering each question,” or something similar along the behavioral dimension.  That is what I mean by “not-directly-verbal.”

Part of me wishes to suggest “are they carrying a book or not?”, but alas too many semi-rational people don’t do that.  I might consider the process by which they select a menu item and order their food, as a kind of proxy for decision-making more generally.  How well they treat the server would be another variable of interest.

As for the second question, I suggest asking the person who he or she thinks are the rational people.  If the answer is considered and uncertain and complex, upgrade the rationality of that person.  If the answer is dogmatic and refers to holding a particular doctrine…

I considered asking the person if he is himself rational, but that simply will induce lying and false modesty.

Can you think of better tests?

At the very least we can ask what they say they would do, and it is not entirely encouraging:

Drawing from literature associating superheroes with altruism, this study examined whether ordinary individuals engaged in altruistic or selfish behavior when they were hypothetically given superpowers. Participants were presented with six superpowers—three positive (healing, invulnerability, and flight) and three negative (fear inducement, psychic persuasion, and poison generation). They indicated their desirability for each power, what they would use it for (social benefit, personal gain, social harm), and listed examples of such uses. Quantitative analyses (n = 285) revealed that 94% of participants wished to possess a superpower, and majority indicated using powers for benefitting themselves than for altruistic purposes. Furthermore, while men wanted positive and negative powers more, women were more likely than men to use such powers for personal and social gain. Qualitative analyses of the uses of the powers (n = 524) resulted in 16 themes of altruistic and selfish behavior. Results were analyzed within Pearce and Amato’s model of helping behavior, which was used to classify altruistic behavior, and adapted to classify selfish behavior. In contrast to how superheroes behave, both sets of analyses revealed that participants would hypothetically use superpowers for selfish rather than altruistic purposes. Limitations and suggestions for future research are outlined.

That is from a new paper by Das-Friebel, et.al., and the pointer is from Rolf Degen. Here is an earlier MR post about what an altruistic and incorruptible Superman should do; I found the question wasn’t so easy to answer.

Here is Rufus Wainwright:

What’s the biggest financial mistake you’ve made?
Signing a publishing deal years ago and asking them to throw in a piano. I thought they were gifting me a piano, when in fact I was just paying for the piano. I was confused by the big leagues—financially, it was a no-man’s land. That happens to most musicians. They get screwed by the industry. It’s a rite of passage. Don’t ask for a piano!

Here is Lee Daniels:

What do you wish you’d known about money before getting into showbiz?
That half of it goes directly to the government. And another 20 percent goes to your representatives, so that’s 70 percent of your income right there. You’d better make some money, honey! You’ve got to put $15 of that $30 away for your retirement.

Is that what you did?
No, of course not! That was the learning experience. It took me 34 years to find that out!

It is striking that none of them refer to “The d word,” namely diversification.  (Priyanka Chopra does mention she bought land in Goa and Mumbai, and that it worked out very well for her.)  Though you also have to wonder if that is not part of the reason why they rose to the top of their respective crafts.  Rather than setting for a sufficiently happy and complacent normal existence, perhaps many kept doubling down on what might have been fundamentally unsound bets.

Here is the full piece from Bloomberg.

West Virginia’s average ACT score and percentage taking the test are almost identical to the national average.

That is from Slocum, here is the comment and link.

Outside my apartment a cobbler has a sidewalk shop where he sits and fixes shoes. One of the things that interests me in this photo is the picture the cobbler hangs behind him, that’s BR Ambedkar. In the Cobblerindependence movement BR Ambedkar was the leader of the Dalit (untouchable) class and the guiding force in writing the Indian constitution, which in India makes him a combination of Martin Luther King and James Madison.

Ambedkar died in 1956 but he continues to be highly regarded, especially, but by no means solely, among the Dalits. Indeed, of the great triumvirate, Gandhi, Nehru, and Ambedkar, only Ambedkar seems to have grown in stature since his death. Gandhi is given lip service but his image no longer carries meaning. As Arundhati Roy put it, “Gandhi has become all things to all people…he is the Saint of the Status Quo.” The image of Ambedkar, however, still signals a demand for justice and an insistent claim that not all is yet right.

Today is Ambedkar’s birthday and at the stroke of midnight my neighborhood, which happens to be on Ambedkar Road, erupted in a party and parade that lasted until two in the morning.

Of the great triumvirate, I’ve always been partial to Ambedkar. He had a PhD in economics from Columbia where he worked under Edwin Seligman and later also graduated from the London School of Economics writing another dissertation under Edwin Cannan. Ambedkar was not a free market advocate and he didn’t write much in pure economics after the 1920s but he was an early supporter of monetary rules because he had a sophisticated understanding of the distributional consequences of monetary interventions and feared government manipulation.

A managed currency is to be altogether avoided when the management is in the hands of the government.

Ambedkar also wrote insightfully on the problem of India’s small farms, a problem that continues to plague India (although some of his solutions such as government ownership of land actually don’t fit the problem, lack of capital, that he emphasized).

So why does Ambedkar continue to resonate in modern India? Ambedkar never had Gandhi’s worship of the village and tradition. He understood that progress would come with cities, industrialization and education. Exactly the forces that are transforming India today. Ambedkar did not mince words:

The love of the intellectual Indian for the village community is pathetic. What is the village but a sink of localism, a den of ignorance, narrow mindedness, and communalism?

Most importantly, quoting Luce’s excellent In Spite of the Gods (still the best introduction to modern India):

Ambedkar gave India’s most marginalised human beings their first real hope of transcending their hereditary social condition. He saw the caste system as India’ greatest social evil, since it treated millions of people as sub-humans by the simple fact of their birth.

But even as the caste system declines in importance (in some ways), there remain those who are marginalized and downtrodden. Ambedkar, for example, resigned as law minister in post independence India when his bill to bring greater equality and property rights to women was rejected. Even today, Ambedkar’s vision is not complete. Ambedkar was a modernist, a rationalist, a believer in the principles of liberty, equality, and the rule of law for all, and for these reasons he remains relevant in modern India.

The Summer Institute on Field Experiments (SIFE) is a highly selective and innovative program at the University of Chicago that brings together the brightest young economists in the world and companies interested in using rigorous field experiment methods and behavioral economics to design solutions to problems they face. Organization partners will share their business challenges, and the Institute’s academics help them to scientifically test new ideas and solutions. The third edition of SIFE will take place at the University of Chicago, July 9-13 2017.

More information can be found here: https://economics.uchicago.edu/content/sife2017

The subtitle of this new and fascinating volume is How Pessimists, Partisans, and Plutocrats are Transforming the Marketplace of Ideas.  Think of this as an update of Richard Posner’s work on public intellectuals, but explaining where a world of social media and higher income inequality and greater polarization has put us.  Wisely, Drezner does not idealize the milieu of Susan Sontag and the Commentary crowd, but still some things have become worse, due largely to the lack of trusted gatekeepers.  For one thing, current superstar status encourages shortcuts and pandering and the evolution of thoughtful “public intellectuals” into evangelizing “thought leaders.”  On the macro level, we are in an equilibrium where every position is argued, verification in the eyes of the reader is doubtful, and the level of trust keeps falling.  That in turn lowers quality, which causes trust to fall further yet, and that also has feedback onto the kind of superstars that rise and persist.

And yes, individual offenders are named!  (You’ll have to buy the book for that.)

In my conversation with Dan yesterday, we pondered whether a high water mark of sorts, for the quality of public intellectual discussion, might have been reached in the late 1980s (e.g., Fukuyama, Nye, Huntington, Friedman, but just a hypothesis, I am not attributing this view to him).  Ultimately I still prefer the present day, having become addicted to freedom of entry and large audiences and a higher percentage of weirdos on the content side.  Yet the larger audiences (yes, you!) are a mixed blessing, and the desire to pander to them, and to give them a voice on social media, ultimately may lead to lower quality feedback being passed along to elites.  The ongoing polarization and exaggeration of discussion is hard to stop, for instance one of the most famous and highest status public intellectuals covered by Dan — Paul Krugman — only a few days ago on Twitter called Trump a “corrupt Russian puppet.”  Krugman is not even one of the figures Dan criticizes.

Going back to Dan’s book, what he prefers is — to summarize it bluntly — TED talks with rebuttals and referee reports.  I am fine with the idea, but I wonder if it doesn’t just cement in the outcome where all comments and positions are staked out with both a vehemence and a lack of resolution.  And as Dan himself points out in other contexts, criticism itself cements in the superstar status of the targets in most cases, and a reasonable consensus may be as likely to recede as anything else.  Ideally Dan wishes to ease “idea exit” rather than restrict “idea entry,” but I am not sure you can have the former without some version of the latter.

There is a very interesting chapter on how this new world has boosted the relative status of economists amongst the social sciences, for instance relative to political scientists.  The first person observations about Dan’s own career are extensive and fascinating.

My take on all this is to prefer a higher-trust-in-experts equilibrium for its practical properties, yet without believing the trust actually is deserved, giving me again a slight affinity with Strauss.  Is there an equilibrium where a high level of trust can be maintained more or less forever?  Or is it like an optimal resource extraction problem, namely that most kinds of trust end up being cashed in, you just hope it was for some good purpose (public support for the bailouts to avoid another 1929?, to cite another of Dan’s books.)

Two topics I wish were discussed more were a) the corrupting influence of consulting, and b) the unwillingness of many intellectuals to address particular issues at all, rather than bias in what they do say.  Of course in both cases accountability is harder to enforce; on the former there are typically no public records, and on the latter it is rarely the responsibility of any particular individual to speak up (“I will pontificate on all sorts of things, but I don’t work on that topic.”)  The resulting lack of transparent, identifiable violations can make these problems all the more insidious.

Over coffee, or rather mineral water for me, I challenged Dan on the notion that social trust actually has gone down — not in businesses, I would say — and offered contrarian takes on Jared Kushner and the trajectory of American power, maybe you will hear more about those soon.  In the meantime, this is one of the thought-provoking books of the year, most of all for those who seek to better understand the world we are all swimming in.

Mathias Czaika and Christopher R. Parsons have a new paper on this topic:

Combining unique, annual, bilateral data on labor flows of highly skilled immigrants for 10 OECD destinations between 2000 and 2012, with new databases comprising both unilateral and bilateral policy instruments, we present the first judicious cross-country assessment of policies aimed to attract and select high-skilled workers. Points-based systems are much more effective in attracting and selecting high-skilled migrants than requiring a job offer, labor market tests, and shortage lists. Offers of permanent residency, while attracting the highly skilled, overall reduce the human capital content of labor flows because they prove more attractive to non-high-skilled workers. Bilateral recognition of diploma and social security agreements foster greater flows of high-skilled workers and improve the skill selectivity of immigrant flows. Conversely, double taxation agreements deter high-skilled migrants, although they do not alter overall skill selectivity. Our results are robust to a variety of empirical specifications that account for destination-specific amenities, multilateral resistance to migration, and the endogeneity of immigration policies.

I would urge a bit of caution, however.  If you are Canada or Australia, and your country is not going to birth Google, you care most about the average skill level.  If you are the United States, you might focus more on policies that boost the far right hand tail of value creation, because the benefits from that will be very high indeed.  That means taking more chances on immigrants with an uncertain future but big potential upside, even if only with a small probability.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

John V. writes to me:

In your podcast with Ezra Klein, you said your number 1 rule for growing up in New Jersey is “Leave”. I’d encourage you to modify the rule to “Leave…but then Return!”

I grew up in Morris County, lived in the San Francisco area for 10 years after college, and moved back to NJ 3 years ago. I now live just a few towns over from where you grew up in Bergen County.

A few observations from my time back here:

1. More Affordable Than You Think

Given the access to labor markets and the available cultural amenities, Northern New Jersey is surprisingly affordable. It’s still possible to find a reasonable home in a reasonable location for ~$200k, which is close to the national median.

I lived in Palo Alto for most of my time in California. The cheapest 4-bedroom house in Palo Alto right now is $2.6M (https://www.redfin.com/CA/Palo-Alto/687-Florales-Dr-94306/home/1666194).

I live in what is perhaps the most “Palo Alto-like” of Bergen County towns, and my 4-bedroom house cost over 3x less and is almost 2x larger than the Palo Alto house above. I also can walk to the train, a Whole Foods, library, YMCA, town pool, third-wave coffee shop, etc. Not too shabby for the price!

Here’s a nice 4-bedroom house on a 1/3 of an acre for under $500k with a Walk Score of 83, train access to NYC, and good schools:
https://www.redfin.com/NJ/Westwood/363-Kinderkamack-Rd-07675/home/35886002
https://www.walkscore.com/score/363-kinderkamack-rd-westwood-nj-07675
http://www.greatschools.org/new-jersey/westwood/

Yes, property and income taxes are high, but isn’t that really just a form of consumption?

2. Quick Access to World-Class Everything

Some travel time anecdotes from my house:
– 35 minutes to Lincoln Center or Central Park on a Saturday
– 20 minutes to this water fall: http://www.teterboro-online.com/images/scenic/falls1/falls02.jpg
– Just over an hour to this beach: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/lpET7nMihwo/maxresdefault.jpg

The food is good too!
– Korean: http://www.saveur.com/korean-food-restaurants-fort-lee-nj
– Hot Dogs: http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/08/hot-dog-of-the-week-rutts-hut.html
– Turkish Bread: http://www.saveur.com/taskin-bakery-turkish-paterson-nj
– Sliders: http://www.seriouseats.com/tags/white%20manna
– Colombian: https://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/villa-de-colombia-hackensack?select=1qyI6IIONUaXi0673YgkkA

3. Extremely Diverse Middle-Class

Want to see what a successful American future could look like? Go here on a Wednesday or Saturday afternoon: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westfield_Garden_State_Plaza

Things you’ll see and hear: Five or six different languages being spoken. Russian grandmothers going for a walk. Packs of teenage girls wearing Hijabs. Orthodox Jewish moms pushing strollers. And many more groups, all reflecting the diversity and success of the surrounding towns:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bergen_County,_New_Jersey#Community_diversity
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passaic_County,_New_Jersey#2010_Census

Northern New Jersey has undergone a lot of ethnic change and international immigration over the last 30 years. There are problems of course, including plenty of segregation. But it’s still working pretty well. The rest of the country could learn a thing or two.

Here is one bit, from the rapid fire back-and-forth:

Ezra Klein

The rationality community.

Tyler Cowen

Well, tell me a little more what you mean. You mean Eliezer Yudkowsky?

Ezra Klein

Yeah, I mean Less Wrong, Slate Star Codex. Julia Galef, Robin Hanson. Sometimes Bryan Caplan is grouped in here. The community of people who are frontloading ideas like signaling, cognitive biases, etc.

Tyler Cowen

Well, I enjoy all those sources, and I read them. That’s obviously a kind of endorsement. But I would approve of them much more if they called themselves the irrationality community. Because it is just another kind of religion. A different set of ethoses. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but the notion that this is, like, the true, objective vantage point I find highly objectionable. And that pops up in some of those people more than others. But I think it needs to be realized it’s an extremely culturally specific way of viewing the world, and that’s one of the main things travel can teach you.

There is much more at the link, entertaining throughout, with links to the full podcast as well.