Month: February 2007

How to praise your kids

…a growing body of research–and a new study from the trenches of the New York public-school system–strongly suggests it might be the other way around.  Giving kids the label of “smart” does not prevent them from underperforming.  It might actually be causing it.

It turns out you should praise them for their effort, not their intelligence.  If you praise kids for their intelligence, they tend to avoid tasks they fear they will fail at.  And get this:

Scholars from Reed College and Stanford reviewed over 150 praise studies. Their meta-analysis determined that praised students become risk-averse and lack perceived autonomy.  The scholars found consistent correlations between a liberal use of praise and students’ “shorter task persistence, more eye-checking with the teacher, and inflected speech such that answers have the intonation of questions.”  …image maintenance becomes their primary concern–they are more competitive and more interested in tearing others down.  A raft of very alarming studies illustrate this.

That is, by the way, from New York magazine.

Why is pornography scarce?

"Playboy Archives Go Digital," so read The Wall Street Journal headline from last week.  That’s right, 636 issues, on six discs, $100 per disc.

Have you noticed that storage is really, really cheap these days?  Have you studied the durable goods monopoly problem?  Once you’ve accumulated a stock of durable material, at some point you will sell off successive units very very cheaply.  Have you noticed that costs of electronic reproduction — call it marginal cost — are really, really low these days?  Have you noticed there is a massive stock of accumulated pornographic images?

Hmm…try graphing that equilibrium.

Call me clueless, as I have very little direct knowledge of pornography.  But I don’t understand why buyers demand such a regular flow of material.  Why don’t they just buy a single dense disc of images and keep themselves, um…busy…for many years?  I believe also that fetishes are fairly stable and predictable.  You don’t need to see "the new porn" to know what you will want to get off on.

As I observe the sector, buyers cough up new money all the time, and they buy relatively small units of output, and at relatively high prices.

Please "splain" it to me, as they say…

One possibility is the neuroeconomics explanation that buying the material yields more pleasure than "using" it.  Maybe porn and cookbooks have something in common after all.

Someone asked me about show tunes

I view Jerome Kern as the greatest of all show tune commposers, he is poorly represented on Amazon, maybe better luck on ebay or iTunes.

The McGlinn EMI recording of *Showboat*, his masterpiece, is essential but not on Amazon.

Here is the standard collection:

It is worth getting but I have mixed feelings about it.

"Bill" is one of his best songs, the more stripped down the version the better, best is just piano and voice.  "Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man" is another, worth downloading several versions of it and listening to it endlessly.  "All the Things You Are" is another, "The Song is You," totally essential listening.  "Whipporwill."

Getting excellent Kern requires some work, it is not well anthologized, sadly.

For Rodgers and Hammerstein, this is a very good Oklahoma:

This is the best Carousel, their most subtle show:

I find *South Pacific* pretty execrable.

Rodgers and Hart are excellent, but no single CD is a good anthology, try downloading "Have You Met Miss Jones?" but get the song, not a jazz treatment of it.

In general I don’t like Ella Fitzgerald versions of this stuff, though they are all over iTunes.

Gershwin is by far the best served on disc of these composers.  I prefer the two-disc Sony set but there are many many good Gershwin recordings, here is the Sony, truly wonderful and fairly comprehensive:

His best show as a whole is Oh, Kay

Oddly this is still not so well known, I don’t know why not, download "Do, do do" from this show even if you don’t buy the whole thing.

I don’t consider *Porgy and Bess* "show tunes" but it is still excellent, even try the Miles Davis recording of it or many other jazz renditions.  Simon Rattle does the best version of the opera.

Sondheim is a genius, here is the best CD of his, Side by Side, stripped down to piano and voice, I have listened to this so many times:

Most recordings of his shows are muddy and murky, disappointing.  *Company* might be the best show as a whole but I keep coming back to that two-disc set.

Lloyd Webber has taken many whackings, but JCS is still wonderful, there is however only one worthwhile version, the original theater company, now only on expensive import but worth it, no more than 2x the price of a normal CD:

After that he is good only in bits and pieces, the shows get worse and worse.

That’s what comes to mind offhand.


Addendum: Tyler the Blogger might add songs like "How High the Moon," and "Cherokee," plus some Harold Arlen.  Art Tatum interprets show tunes better than just about anybody.  Cole Porter I do not love but he should not be neglected.  Adam Guettel intrigues me, but he cannot light a candle to Magnetic Fields (Stephen Merritt), 69 Love Songs, volume one, essential listening for all.

Good luck

To extend [health care] coverage without changing these [cost-inflating] dynamics would add on another $77 billion of spending beyond what it should cost.

That is Ezra Klein, his post has some interesting data.  Note that while we might shift some of the financial burden of pharmaceuticals to Europe and elsewhere, this hardly qualifies as a global welfare improvement.  There are plenty of other ways to redistribute money from foreigners.  I am, however, struck by this bit:

Another $147 billion in increased spending, much of it a consequence of
the fee-for-service system, wherein doctors are paid based on how many
procedures they recommend and carry out.  Doctors with equity in
facilities where they can co-refer cases conduct between two and eight
times more tests than those without equity interests.

Some of this is third-party payment, but more generally the consumer as monitor is often either insane or asleep.  To get what is really wrong with health care markets, we must turn to the academics, not as analysts but rather as examples:

One 47-year-old professor, a classic blunter who had received a
diagnosis of prostate cancer, told me: "I would be insulted if some guy
read 15 papers on theoretical physics, my own field, and then came in
and asked me to help him design an experiment.  And I expect the same of
my doctor.  I pay her.  Let her sit down and tell me exactly what I need
to know — what are my choices and what do they mean?  That’s her job.  I
have other things to do."

Many consumers just don’t want to face the stark realities of how they are doing.  How about letting me make the health care decisions for a randomly chosen partner, and vice versa?  Here is much more, via Craig Newmark.  On related topics, here is Arnold Kling.

My media secrets

I’m not going to cite "the usual sources," most (all?) of which I read, so please don’t be offended if you write for them or edit them.  When it comes to media, I also love the following:

1. Entertainment Weekly; I devour it immediately upon arrival, there is no periodical I look forward to more.  I often disagree with their reviews, but I can always interpret the bottom line.  The coverage of good TV is without peer.

2. Fanfare, reviews of classical music, the reviewers maintain an impossibly high standard.  I read it the night it arrives, and I click on Amazon to get what I want, end of story.

3. New York magazine; it has proved itself consistently interesting, and I don’t even live in New York.

4. The modern love column for The Sunday New York Times; here is one example.  I read it closely every week.  I just ordered the book.

5. The marriage announcements in The Sunday New York Times.  I only read a few each week, but they keep my perspective real, albeit totally skewed toward the upper classes; the combination with the photo is essential.  To the extent that this is the real news in a given day, our world is a healthy place.

6. Variety magazine by far the best movie reviews.  Unlike newspapers, they don’t confuse how good the movie is with how popular it will be.  Expensive but worth it, plus the foreign coverage is first-rate.

7. The Art Newspaper, all the news in the world of museums, auctions, antiquities law, art fairs, and exhibits.  It is written at a very high intellectual level.

What am I missing?  I don’t find Spin that useful any more, World Beat has stopped arriving, then there are the science magazines, Discover and SA are favorites.

Intergenerational markets in everything?

We print a government bond called a Global Warming Bond.  These have stamped on
them: "I pay out 1000 indexed pounds in every year – beginning in the year 2050
and going on forever".   Bonds would be given out, as a subsidy, to those
people and organizations who reduce emissions today.

The bonds would have immediate value.  A market in them would spring up.  I shall
assume that their status as government bonds would make risk of default
negligible.  One might object to this, but I shall leave it at that.

The attractive thing about these bonds is that (leaving aside technical issues
about general equilibrium reallocations across asset classes) they would be
funded essentially by future taxpaying citizens.  Those earning and paying taxes
in 2050 onwards would fund them.  Our citizens, in 2007, would gain.

In this way, the unborn would subsidize us to cut carbon emissions.

Ha! There is general case for subsidizing virtuous behavior, but don’t think the future people are paying; they inherit both the tax liability and the bonds.  Our great-grandchildren pay only to the extent that the existence of the bonds causes us to feel wealthier, spend more, and leave smaller bequests.  Even Ph.d. economists miss that point with astonishing regularity.  That link is via Mark Thoma, who also links to commentary from Larry Summers and other luminaries.

Here is Mark’s new blog experiment.

Are the British genetically capitalist?

Greg Clark is one of my favorite economists, but I am not convinced by his latest paper.  Here is the abstract:

Before 1800 all societies, including England, were Malthusian.  The average man or woman had 2 surviving children.  Such societies were also Darwinian.  Some reproductively successful groups produced more than 2 surviving children, increasing their share of the population, while other groups produced less, so that their share declined.  But unusually in England, this selection for men was based on economic success from at least 1250, not success in violence as in some other pre-industrial societies.  The richest male testators left twice as many children as the poorest.  Consequently the modern population of the English is largely descended from the economic upper classes of the middle ages.  At the same time, from 1150 to 1800 in England there are clear signs of changes in average economic preferences towards more "capitalist” attitudes.  The highly capitalistic nature of English society by 1800 – individualism, low time preference rates, long work hours, high levels of human capital – may thus stem from the nature of the Darwinian struggle in a very stable agrarian society in the long run up to the Industrial Revolution.  The triumph of capitalism in the modern world thus may lie as much in our genes as in ideology or rationality.

There is considerable evidence that commercially successful Englishmen had more kids than average, starting in medieval times.  There is much less comparative evidence about other societies; do see pp.31-2, 55-7, but his best example concerns one Amazon tribe, where the warlike reproduced with greater frequency.

Of course the commercial revolution and then the so-called industrial revolution came out of England, not Germany or Italy.  If it could be shown that the English family pattern stood out with regard to the rest of Europe, I would see greater heft in the idea.  The Yanamamo differ in too many other regards for this comparison to illuminate any possible role for genetics in the European economic take-off.  If family patterns can make the crucial difference, let’s keep as many other factors constant as possible.  Otherwise I’m back to thinking it is institutions (most of all for science) and peer effects, not genetics, at the relevant margin of take-off.  Did commercially active Germans and Italians, during the Renaissance, really fail to propagate their seed?

Addendum: See also the work of Oded Galor.

Blogging as self-experimentation

Seth Roberts writes:

“Blogging, of course, is one of the ultimate forms of self-experimentation,” Tyler Cowen wrote me.  I wasn’t quite sure what he meant.  He explained: “Your blood pressure, how your brain is working, what new ideas you have, how your attention span has changed, how you now read other people’s work differently, who you find yourself liking more (and less), etc.  I believe those effects [of blogging] are often quite striking.”

Blogging makes us more oriented toward an intellectual bottom line, more interested in the directly empirical, more tolerant of human differences, more analytical in the course of daily life, more interested in people who are interesting, and less patient with Continental philosophy.  All you bloggers out there, or spouses of bloggers, what effects do you notice?

Can we do without digital rights management?

Steve Jobs claims to think so, and EMI might abolish it.  It could be said that the music companies never adopted the idea in full, recall the compact disc?  Burning compact discs is remarkably easy, and that practice remains the biggest copyright problem, not illegal downloads.  Someone who burns a whole disc is more likely to otherwise have bought it, compared to someone snatching songs off the web.  Of course, for all the complaints, the era of compact discs has been entirely acceptable for music companies.

DRM is a tax on digital consumers, compared to the low de facto restrictions put on CD buyers.  So why not equalize that margin, especially since digital sales have lower overhead?  Admittedly piracy is easier over the web, although for teenagers the difference is smaller than you might think.  I believe that at this point a person is either an illegal downloader or not.

The deeper question is whether the move away from DRM might cause the dominant position of iTunes to unravel.