Month: August 2009

Serial monogamy and hypergamous women

In her analysis, Dr. Borgerhoff Mulder found that although Pimbwe men
were somewhat more likely than their female counterparts to marry
multiple times, women held their own and even outshone men in the upper
Zsa Zsa Gabor end of the scale, of five consecutive spouses and
counting. And when Dr. Borgerhoff Mulder looked at who extracted the
greatest reproductive payoff from serial monogamy, as measured by who
had the most children survive past the first five hazardous years of
life, she found a small but significant advantage female. Women who
worked their way through more than two husbands had, on average, higher
reproductive success, a greater number of surviving children, than
either the more sedately mating women, or than men regardless of
wifetime total.

Here is more.  I believe those last two words — "wifetime total" — should in fact be "lifetime total."  This was interesting:

Provocatively, the character sketches of the male versus female
serialists proved to be inversely related. Among the women, those with
the greatest number of spouses were themselves considered high-quality
mates, the hardest working, the most reliable, with scant taste for the
strong maize beer the Pimbwe famously brew. Among the men, by contrast,
the higher the nuptial count, the lower the customer ranking, and the
likelier the men were to be layabout drunks.

“We’re so wedded
to the model that men will benefit from multiple marriages and women
won’t, that women are victims of the game,” Dr. Borgerhoff Mulder said.
“But what my data suggest is that Pimbwe women are strategically
choosing men, abandoning men and remarrying men as their economic
situation goes up and down.”

Dare one whisper "hypergamy"?

Africa fact of the day

About 10 percent of infants die in their first year of life in Africa
— still shockingly high, but considerably lower than the European
average less than 100 years ago, let alone 800 years past. And about
two thirds of Africans are literate — a level achieved in Spain only
in the 1920s.

Here is more.  The article makes additional interesting observations.

Against satiation

Why not apply behavioral economics to s**?  C., an MR reader, writes to me:

The theory, put plainly by me, is that the female (or male) partner in a couple is never cuter or more loved than just before fertilization, so why fertilize as much as we do? Why not once a fortnight or so (with sex without satiation 2x a day in between)?

I am told this will preserve true love forever.  Here is a related article.  Here is a related book, which I have yet to read.  Here is the main Google blast on the topic.

How many of you read this and then revise downwards how much you think you desire true love forever?

Antitrust and Marginal Revolution

Bryan Caplan asks under what conditions would the antitrust authorities prosecute me and Tyler?  When we raise our price?  When we require MR readers to promise not to read any other blogs?  When we merge with a competitor?  Or when we predate by producing so many high-quality posts at such a low price that it forces other blogs out of business?  (heh, isn't that what we are doing right now?)

As Bryan points out, raising price wouldn't cause legal problems but all the other actions would.  Why?

Will there be another Milton Friedman?

Dan Klein, guest-blogging at AustrianEconomists, poses the question and says no, there will not be a classical liberal advocate of comparable stature.  At least not anytime soon:

the postwar re-awakenings, bold thinkers defied the cultural ruts of
their times. They rediscovered pieces of the liberal understanding.
Mises, Hayek, Friedman, Buchanan, Tullock, Rothbard, Kirzner, Alchian,
Sowell, Coase, Bauer, Simon and Demsetz developed new statements of
parts of liberal wisdom. Because it had been dead and buried, it now
seemed fresh and original. They earned status as epic figures by fresh
pioneering and academic kudos. But what they formulated and taught to
all of us was the low-hanging fruit of all that had been forgotten.  I’m
not saying that everything they teach had been taught 150 years prior.
But a lot of it had, and the basic verities pretty much all had….

I don’t think that a clone of Milton Friedman could today become Milton Friedman. To get on in Econ he’d have to do a lot more math, and identify with “normal scientists.” Back in the day, Hayek, Coase, and Buchanan could eschew math and still end up with Nobel prizes. Not today.

Normal scientists won’t embrace you academically if you don’t seem like their
kind. You would have to become their kind. You wouldn’t develop liberal
vision and motivation. Or, if you did you wouldn’t become first among
your peers at a top department (even, that is, if you had the
endowments of a Milton Friedman).

The culture generally is becoming more fragmented, because of technology. But technology is making the academic discipline more integrated and monolithic, even at the international level. There is no “freshwater” vs.
“saltwater” and so on. It is like the baseball player market, one big
pyramid. The top departments are alike and the rest strive to maintain
their standing in the pyramid.

Regardless of academic standing, how is the modern clone of Milton Friedman to cut
a figure? The low-hanging fruit has been plucked and digested by the
liberal movement. A new young brilliant dynamo could write a nice book
like Free to Choose or Road to Serfdom, but who would care? It’s all available in another dozen books that have appeared since 1960.

There is more at the link and of course you can see the link to David Hume's ideas about the posts of honour being filled.  I agree with Dan.

Nova Scotia bleg

Natasha and I lucked out with frequent flyer miles and soon we will have two lovely days in Nova Scotia, starting in Halifax but with a rental car.  What should we do?  Where should we eat?  Your thoughts would be most welcome.  I've never had a visit to Canada which was less than excellent and that includes a good fifteen trips at least.

Against obviousness

Things can be obvious if they are simple. If something complicated is
obvious, such as anything that anybody seriously studies, then for it
to be simple you must be abstracting it a lot. When people find such
things obvious, what they often mean is that the abstraction is so
clear and simple its implications are unarguable. This is answering the
wrong question. Most of the reasons such conclusions might be false are
hidden in what you abstracted away. The question is whether you have
the right abstraction for reality, not whether the abstraction has the
implications it seems to.

That's from Katja Grace.  Here is a good post on murder and evil.

Addendum: I liked this bit too:

Perhaps mysterious forces are just more trustworthy than social
institutions? Or perhaps karma seems nice because its promotion is read
as ‘everyone will get what they deserve’, while markets seem nasty
because their promotion is read as ‘everyone deserves what they’ve
got’. Better ideas?

What I’ve been reading

1. The Idea of Justice, by Amartya Sen.  This book is 415 pages of intelligent Sen-isms.  Key themes are the importance of public reasoning, the plurality of reasons, and the possibility of an impartial approach to major ethical questions.  We also learn that in 1938 Wittgenstein was determined to go to Vienna and give Hitler a stern lecture; he had to be talked out of it.  At the end of it all I was more rather than less confused about what impartiality means.  I don't blame that on Sen, but that says more about the book than any particular comment which I might make.  It's a very good introduction to Sen's ethical thought but it's ultimately the Wittgenstein anecdote which sticks with me.

2. Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon.  This tripartite mystery about reinventing yourself has received rave reviews and Amazon readers are strongly positive.  I read about one hundred pages and thought it was ably done but of no real substance.

3. How to Make Love to Adrian Colesberry, by Adrian Colesberry.  My god this book is sick and I feel bad even telling you about it.  It's exactly what the title promises and it has no business being discussed on a family-oriented economics blog.  The language is explicit and the content is disgusting.  It's also brilliant, funny, and unique.  How often do I see a new approach to what a book can be?  Once you get past the language and topic, it's actually about narcissism, why empathy is scarce, how we form self-images, how men classify and remember their pasts, and why management fad books are absurd.

4. A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, by Rebecca Solnit.  For many people
this may be a good book but I could not read far into it.  The main
thesis is quite interesting, namely that people forms immediate islands
of community and cooperation during very trying times.  The examples
include the San Francisco and Mexico City earthquakes, 9/11, and
Hurricane Katrina.  But I found the ratio of information to page was
too low for my admittedly extreme tastes.

Here is an interesting bit on how emergencies inspire crowd cooperation, not panic.

5. Das Museum der Unschuld, by Orhan Pamuk.  That's The Museum of Innocence in English, out in late October, but I found the German-language version in Stockholm.  It's in his "Istanbul nostalgic" mode rather than his "I'm trying to be like Italo Calvino" style and it promises to be one of his very best books.

The Inheritance of Education

Economix posted a graph showing a strong positive correlation between SAT score and parental income.  Greg Mankiw pointed out that the effect is unlikely to be purely causal because there may be an omitted variable bias, IQ for example.  Paul Krugman and Matt Yglesias both attack Mankiw and point to graphs showing that income matters for college completion and enrollment, respectively, holding various achievement scores constant.  Brad DeLong crunches the numbers on IQ and income correlation to estimate that half the effect is due to IQ and half to something else.

All this is good but none if it gets at the heart of the matter because there are a lot of way that heredity/genes could explain the income/education correlation; IQ is only one possible mechanism, personality (e.g. conscientiousness) is another possibility.

The type of evidence that we need to resolve this question is adoption studies.  Fortunately, such studies have been done and indeed I have presented the data before in my post Nature, Nurture and Income.  Let's do so again.

The graph below is from What Happens When We Randomly Assign Children to Families?, by Bruce Sacerdote
Holt's International Children's Services places children, primarily
Koreans, with families in the United States.  Holt has an interesting
proviso to their adoption contract, conditional on being accepted into
the program, children are randomly assigned.  Sacerdote has collected
data from children who were adopted between 1970-1980, and thus who
today are in their mid 20's or 30's, and their adoptive parents.

The graph shows how parent income at the time of adoption relates to
child income for the adopted and "biological" (non-adopted) children. 
The income of biological children increases strongly with parental
income but the income of adoptive children is flat in parent income. 
What does this mean?


The graph does not say that adopted children necessarily have low
income.  On the contrary, some have high and some have low income and
the same is true of biological children.  What the graph says is that
higher parental income predicts higher child income but only for
biological children and not for adoptees.

Now what about education?  Sacerdote looks at that as well.  He doesn't have a child SAT-score, parent-income correlation but he does find:

Having a college educated mother increases an adoptee's probability of
graduating from college by 7 percentage points, but raises a biological
child's probability of graduating from college by 26 percentage points.

The effect for father's years of education is even larger; about a ten times larger effect on biological children than on adoptees.  Similarly, parent income has a negligible effect, small and not statistically significant, on an adoptee completing college but an 8 times larger and statistically significant effect on a biological child completing college (Table 4, column 3). 

Assorted links

1. Neurodiversity and fandom.

2. Photo of Titan.

3. Why it's hard to inflate away the debt.

4. What are the highest circulation periodicals?

5. Beryl Sprinkel passes away at 85.

6. Reihan's web project; "Eventually, I’d like it to be a buzzing hub of Reihan-related activity:
illustrations, videos, posts, perhaps a podcast, crushed skulls,
diamond-encrusted elephant tusks, and more."

State Rescission

From an email, sent to all employees, from the Office of the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia:

Virginia faces its most critical budget shortfall in several decades and we must do all that we can to reduce spending pressures…

If you are enrolled in the state health plan and have "You Plus One" or "You Plus Two or More" coverage, you will receive a packet of information concerning the audit of eligible dependents. I strongly urge you to provide the necessary information to protect your continued coverage by the state health plan.

You will be asked to sign an affidavit attesting that each of your dependents is eligible to be covered by the state health plan (click here for definitions of eligible dependents).

Participation is required. The health benefits program may initiate spot audits that will require additional documentation of dependent eligibility. The benefit to you and other state employees is that this audit will help keep health care costs down by removing ineligible persons from the state health plan.