Jon Hilsenrath says Bernanke deserves one, I agree.  I would gladly see a Bernanke-Woodford-Svensson prize, perhaps working in Mark Gertler too.

But for this year’s pick, due October 13, I am predicting William J. Baumol, possibly with William G. Bowen, for work on the cost-disease.  As you probably know, this hypothesis suggested that the costs of education and health care would continue to rise in relative terms, thereby creating significant economic problems.  Not a bad prediction for 1966, and of course it has become a truly important issue.

One problem is that the initial Baumol and Bowen hypothesis focused on the performing arts, rather than health care and education.  A lot of live performance is pretty robust, although not always European high culture, and furthermore the internet has proven a much closer substitute in the minds of consumers than many people had expected.  So the cost-disease argument, in the area where it was originally formulated, hasn’t panned out but rather has evolved into a kind of merit good demand — “I wish more people were paying for Mozart rather than for sports and live music in bars.”

A second problem is whether it should be Baumol or Baumol and Bowen.  Bowen was co-author on the major and initial work, but Baumol has numerous other contributions, including contestability, operations research and economics, entrepreneurship, externalities and Pigouvian taxes, portfolio theory, and even in the older literatures on money demand and also sales maximization for business firms.  One can well imagine Baumol paired with one or two other people, perhaps from industrial organization, and the cost-disease as one but not the only reason for the prize.  Or if they give it to him and Bowen, it looks more like an “economics of education” prize, with a mention of health care tacked on.

So yes, that’s my pick.  Keep in mind people, in the past I have never, ever gotten the timing of the pick right.  Not once.  But Baumol is now ninety-two, so I think this will be his year.  Of course the Bayesian will note that last year he was ninety-one.

The return to education in France?

by on September 30, 2014 at 3:34 pm in Economics, Education, Law | Permalink

Pierre Mouganie has a new paper:

In 1997, the French government put into effect a law that permanently exempted young French male citizens born after Jan 1, 1979 from mandatory military service while still requiring those born before that cutoff date to serve. This paper uses a regression discontinuity design to identify the effect of peacetime conscription on education and labor market outcomes. Results indicate that conscription eligibility induces a significant increase in years of education, which is consistent with conscription avoidance behavior. However, this increased education does not result in either an increase in graduation rates, or in employment and wages. Additional evidence shows conscription has no direct effect on earnings, suggesting that the returns to education induced by this policy was zero.

You should note of course that the “return to education you wish to do for non-draft-avoiding reasons” still may be positive or strongly positive.  Nonetheless this is an object lesson in the point that the goal is not to increase educational attainment per se, but rather good outcomes probably require “education plus some of the prerequisites and complements of education.”  The large number of unemployed engineers in some of the Arabic countries illustrate a related point.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

It’s one thing for parents to shell out for cram schools or private tutors for their children, but parents in China’s Zhejiang province are taking it a step further. There, parents can give their own blood to earn some extra points on their child’s zhongkao, or high school entrance exam.

Four liters of donated blood will get your child one extra point; 6 liters adds two points; and 8 liters, three. One 28-year-old man on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, posted that he had surpassed the 4-liter mark, a gift to his unborn child: “[I] want to tell my future son: No worries with the high school entrance exams, Dad has already got you bonus marks!” the man said, quoted in the South China Morning Post. The policy began this July, but parents are able to take into account the blood they donated in the past. The 28-year-old had started donating when he was 18.

That is from Jeanne Kim, there is more here.

There is a new report of interest, admittedly MIT physics-specific only:

…for the first time, researchers have carried out a detailed study that shows that these classes really can teach at least as effectively as traditional classroom courses—and they found that this is true regardless of how much preparation and knowledge students start out with.

The findings have just been published in the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, in a paper by David Pritchard, MIT’s Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physics, along with three other researchers at MIT and one each from Harvard University and China’s Tsinghua University.

“It’s an issue that has been very controversial,” Pritchard says. “A number of well-known educators have said there isn’t going to be much learning in MOOCs, or if there is, it will be for people who are already well-educated.”

But after thorough before-and-after testing of students taking the MITx physics class 8.MReVx (Mechanics Review) online, and similar testing of those taking the same class in its traditional form, Pritchard and his team found quite the contrary: The study showed that in the MITx course, “the amount learned is somewhat greater than in the traditional lecture-based course,” Pritchard says.

A second, more surprising finding, he says, is that those who were least prepared, as shown by their scores on pretests, “learn as well as everybody else.” That is, the amount of improvement seen “is no different for skillful people in the class”—including experienced physics teachers—”or students who were badly prepared. They all showed the same level of increase,” the study found.

For the pointer I thank Samir Varma

Sentences to ponder

by on September 24, 2014 at 11:36 am in Education | Permalink

One broker reported that parents interested in living near their boarding-school children now represented over 30 percent of her business.

There is more here.

Jeremy Waldron on Nudge

by on September 23, 2014 at 11:08 am in Books, Education, Philosophy, Political Science | Permalink

Waldron is one of my favorite contemporary philosophers, here is one bit from his NYRoB essay:

More reassuring, I think, would be a candid assessment of what might go wrong with nudging. One of Sunstein’s many books (from before his time in the White House) is entitled Worst-Case Scenarios. Could we please have something like that as a companion to Nudge?

I am afraid there is very little awareness in these books about the problem of trust. Every day we are bombarded with offers whose choice architecture is manipulated, not necessarily in our favor. The latest deal from the phone company is designed to bamboozle us, and we may well want such blandishments regulated. But it is not clear whether the regulators themselves are trustworthy. Governments don’t just make mistakes; they sometimes set out deliberately to mislead us. The mendacity of elected officials is legendary and claims on our trust and credulity have often been squandered. It is against this background that we have to consider how nudging might be abused.

The full piece is here.  By the way, there is a new Cass Sunstein book out, which I have not yet read, Valuing Life: Humanizing the Regulatory State.

The Twitter pointer is from Michael Clemens.

Hedge fund rats

by on September 23, 2014 at 2:00 am in Economics, Education | Permalink

Why should trading be the province of humans only?:

One project is Michael Marcovici’s Rat Trader. The book describes the training of laboratory rats to trade in foreign exchange and commodity futures markets. Marcovici says the rats “outperformed some of the world’s leading human fund managers.” The rats were trained to press a red or green button to give buy or sell signals, after listening to ticker tape movements represented as sounds. If they called the market right they were fed, if they called it wrong they got a small electric shock. Male and female rats performed equally well. The second generation of rattraders, cross-bred from the best performers in the first generation, appeared to have even better performance, although this is a preliminary result, according to the text. Marcovici’s plan, he writes, is to breed enough of them to set up a hedge fund.

I don’t myself like the electric shock idea, but there you go.  That is from Diane Coyle, and for the pointer I thank Michael Gibson.

Susan Dynarski writes:

Public colleges are collecting about the same revenue per student today as they were 25 years ago. In 1988, educational revenue per full-time-equivalent student at public colleges was $11,300; in 2013, it was $11,500. (These amounts are adjusted for inflation and are expressed in 2013 dollars.)

Then why is tuition up?  The answer is pretty simple:

In 1988, state legislatures gave their public colleges an average of $8,600 a student. Students contributed an additional $2,700 in tuition, which gets us to a total of $11,300. By 2013, states were kicking in just $6,100, while students were contributing $5,400; this gets us to a total of $11,500.

As far as students are concerned, public tuition has doubled. As far as public colleges are concerned, funding is flat.

The full column is here.

This is the new and fantastic book by Arthur M. Melzer and the subtitle is The Lost History of Esoteric Writing.  It is the best book I know on esoteric writing and its history and furthermore it is clear and to the point!  (I think)

Melzer starts his chapter eight with this quotation from John Toland’s eighteenth century Pantheisticon:

[Esotericism is] practiced not by the Ancients alone; for to declare the Truth, it is more in Use among the Moderns.

Here is another bit from the book:

To begin with, we need an author who, in his interpretations, is willing to follow the very un-Straussian injunction — often found on mathematics exams — “show all work.”  We need to see, once or twice, how the sausage is made.  The best writing for this purpose that I am familiar with comes from an appropriately un-Straussian source: Stanley Fish.  His “Georgics of the Mind: The Experience of Bacon’s Essays” is a brilliant and nuanced exercise in textual analysis that openly displays, at every stage of Fish’s encounter with the text, what he thinks and why he thinks it.

…Another excellent and highly communicative reader…is Robert Connor.  His Thucydides is a very sensitive reading of Thucydides’s great history, a reading openly arrived at and clearly conveyed.  In conjunction with this, one should also read Clifford Orwin’s superb The Humanity of Thucydides.


I wrote this in 2004 on MR:

Here are my suggestions:

1. There is always time to do more, most people, even the productive, have a day that is at least forty percent slack.

2. Do the most important things first in the day and don’t let anybody stop you.  Estimate “most important” using a zero discount rate.  Don’t make exceptions.  The hours from 7 to 12 are your time to build for the future before the world descends on you.

3. Some tasks (drawing up outlines?) expand or contract to fill the time you give them.  Shove all these into times when you are pressed to do something else very soon.

4. Each day stop writing just a bit before you have said everything you want to.  Better to approach your next writing day “hungry” than to feel “written out.”  Your biggest enemy is a day spent not writing, not a day spent writing too little.

5. Blogging builds up good work habits; the deadline is always “now.”

Rahul R. asks me if I would like to revise the list.  I’ll add these:

6. Don’t drink alcohol.  Don’t take drugs.

7. At any point in your life, do not be watching more than one television show on a regular basis.

8. Don’t feel you have to finish a book or movie if you don’t want to.  I cover that point at length in my book Discover Your Inner Economist.

I think I would take back my old #5, since I observe some bloggers who have gone years, ten years in fact, without being so productive.

I remain amazed that we have as much free trade as we do.  Here is from a recent Pew poll:

President Barack Obama and other world leaders are having a tough time selling the benefits of the trade agreements they’re negotiating, in part because much of the public thinks all the talk about trade’s benefits is a bunch of baloney.

Out of 44 nationalities surveyed this year, only one — Israelis — tends to believe the basic tenet of economists that increased trade will foster competition and deliver lower prices for consumers.

On a broader question of whether increasing trade and business ties with other countries is a good thing, only 68% of Americans agree, compared with 76% worldwide, according to the study released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center.

The Pew study itself is here and it is interesting throughout.  It is in Bangladesh, Uganda, and Lebanon that people are most likely to believe trade raises real wages, and Bangladeshis are most sympathetic to foreign direct investment.  Only 28% of Americans believe it is good when foreigners buy up U.S. companies.  58% of Chinese think trade leads to price increases, perhaps a sign of the prevalence of foreign luxury goods in that country.

For the pointer I thank Ray Lopez, who himself benefits from free trade, factor mobility, and foreign direct investment.

That is a new paper (pdf) by John Cawley, here is the abstract:

This guide, updated for the 2014-15 job market season, describes the academic market for new Ph.D. economists and offers advice on conducting an academic job search. It reports findings from published papers, describes practical details, and provides links to internet resources. Topics addressed include: preparing to go on the market, applying for academic jobs, the AEA’s new electronic clearinghouse for the job market, signaling, interviewing at the ASSA meetings, campus visits, the secondary market scramble, offers and negotiating, diversity, and dual job searches.

Here is some of the good news from the paper itself:

National Science Foundation data indicate that Ph.D. economists have the lowest unemployment rate (0.9%) of any doctoral field,
as well as one of the highest median salaries of any doctoral field. Finally, the vast majority of people are happy with the outcome of their search. Of the new Ph.D. economists in 2001-02, 94% reported that they liked their jobs very much or fairly well (Siegfried and Stock, 2004).

For the pointer I thank Bruce Bartlett.

Sentences to ponder

by on September 15, 2014 at 1:27 pm in Education | Permalink

…the relation between the strength of constitutional educational rights and the quality of education is negative and statistically significant.

That is from Sebastian Edwards and Alvaro Garcia Marin, the paper is here.

Is hypergamy fading?

by on September 12, 2014 at 2:20 am in Education, Games | Permalink

Here is a new paper from Christine R. Schwartz and Hongyun Han, and here is the key part of the abstract:

…marriages in which wives have the educational advantage were once more likely to dissolve, but this association has disappeared in more recent marriage cohorts. Another key finding is that the relative stability of marriages between educational equals has increased. These results are consistent with a shift away from rigid gender specialization toward more flexible, egalitarian partnerships, and they provide an important counterpoint to claims that progress toward gender equality in heterosexual relationships has stalled.

There are ungated versions here, and for the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.


by on September 10, 2014 at 1:07 am in Books, Education, History, The Arts | Permalink

In Welsh poetry, dyfalu is the piling on of comparisons, definition through conceit.  The word also means “to guess” in Welsh, and many poems of dyfalu have an element of guesswork, a fanciful and riddling dimension.  “The art of dyfalu, meaning “to describe” or “to deride,” rests in the intricate development of a series of images and extended metaphors which either celebrate or castigate a person, animal, or object,” the encyclopedia of Celtic Culture explains.  Dafydd ap Gwilym’s poems to the mist and the wind are classic fourteenth-century examples.

That is from Edward Hirsch, A Poet’s Glossary, which I am quite enjoying.  There is interesting material on every page and it is written with passion.   A hendiatris is a “figure of speech in which three words are employed to express an idea, as in Thomas Jefferson’s tripartite motto for the Declaration of Independence: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.””  When there are only two words so employed, it is of course a hendiadys.