Month: February 2011

Felix’s law

Felix Salmon, that is:

One of the paradoxes of news media is that most of the time, the more you’re paying to use it, the harder it is to navigate. Sites like HuffPo make navigation effortless, while it can take weeks or months to learn how to properly use a Bloomberg or Westlaw terminal. Once the NYT implements its paywall, it’s locking itself into that broken system: it will be providing an expensive service to a self-selecting rich elite who are willing to put in the time to learn how to use it. Meanwhile, most Americans will happily get their news from friendlier and much more approachable free services like HuffPo.

Read the whole post, which is about the differences between Huffington Post and the NYT, interesting throughout.  MR redesign is coming soon!

Creative style and achievement in ADHD adults

Here is the abstract:

Previous research has suggested that adults with ADHD perform better on some measures of creativity than non-ADHD adults. The present study replicated previous findings using a standardized measure of creativity (the Abbreviated Torrance Test for Adults, Goff & Torrance, 2002) and extended previous research by investigating real-world creative achievement among adults with ADHD. Results indicated that adults with ADHD showed higher levels of original creative thinking on the verbal task of the ATTA and higher levels of real-world creative achievement, compared to adults without ADHD. In addition, comparison of creative styles using the FourSight Thinking Profile (Puccio 2002) found that preference for idea generation was higher among ADHD participants, whereas preference for problem clarification and idea development was greater among non-ADHD participants. These findings have implications for real-world application of the creative styles of adults with and without ADHD.

The paper, by Holly A. White and Priti Shah, is here.  Note that ADHD individuals score high on "verbal originality."  Here is a previous White paper on ADHD and creativity.

It's also worth repeating the more general point that many (most?) ADHD individuals have a high variance of focus abilities, not a complete inability to focus on something.  They can be some of the world's best focusers, under the right circumstances.

The Living Constitution

Laurence Tribe writes in today's New York Times regarding the health care law:

Since the New Deal, the court has consistently held that Congress has broad constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce. This includes authority over not just goods moving across state lines, but also the economic choices of individuals within states that have significant effects on interstate markets. By that standard, this law’s constitutionality is open and shut.

Quite so; but what Tribe forgets is that the constitution is a living document. The constitution's meaning is not fixed by the New Deal. The constitution evolves to meet the needs of the people in the here and now. Tribe's interpretation of the commerce clause, which may have been appropriate for the age of steel and iron, is not necessarily right for the age of genes and bytes. We are fortunate, the constitution lives.

*Endgame*, and the rationality of Bobby Fischer

The author is Frank Brady and the subtitle is Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall — from America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness.  It is sure to make my list of the best books of 2011 and it requires no real knowledge of chess.  Here is an excerpt on the rationality of the young Fischer:

While they were waiting for the results, Bisguier asked Bobby why he's offered the draw to Shipman when he had a slight advantage and the outcome wasn't certain.  If Bobby had won that game, he would have been the tournament's clear winner, a half point ahead of Bisguier.  Bobby replied that he had more to gain than lose by the decision.  He'd assumed that Bisguier would either win or draw his own game, and if so, Bobby would have at least a tie for first place.  That meant a payday of $750 for each player, a virtual gold mine for Fischer.  Recognizing Bobby's greater need for money than the capture of a title, however prestigious, Bisguier noted: "Evidently, his mature judgment is not solely confined to the chessboard."

Much later in Fischer's life:

…Bobby and Miyoko attended a screening [in Japan] of the American film Pearl Harbor.  When the Japanese Zeroes began bombing the ships in Battleship Row and destroyed the USS Arizona, Bobby began clapping loudly.  He was the only one in the theater to do do — much to the embarrassment of the Japanese.  He said that he was shocked that no one else joined in.

There are many revelations in this book, including that Bobby turned to Catholicism in the last period of his life.

China fashion fact of the day

Men represent 45% of the $1.2-billion market for all luxury handbags in China, according to Victor Luis, president of Coach Retail International. That figure is just 7% in the U.S…

"It's crucial for business," said Zhang, who chose the chocolate-colored bag because he thought it was stylish without being flashy. "It shows I have good taste."

That's debatable, considering Zhang wore his hair in a cotton candy pouf. What's clear is that the designer handbag, long a fashion staple for stylish women worldwide, has become a status symbol for upwardly mobile men in China.

At business meetings and social events across China these days, many of the Prada, Louis Vuitton and Burberry bags are being toted by the fellows in the crowd.

Wang Zhongzhu, a 42-year-old insurance executive, wouldn't dream of networking without his $1,000 leather Dunhill slung over his shoulder. He said the creamy brown mini-messenger bag sends a message that he appreciates – and can afford – fine accessories.

According to the article, in China this is a sign that you are an alpha male.  Here is more, and for the pointer I thank Daniel Lippman.

European sentences to ponder

It is surely not an attractive proposition for, say Spain, to have labour laws coming from Berlin, a currency from Frankfurt, but debts remaining in Spain.

And, in a nod to political business cycle theory:

Outsiders are often amazed to hear that all the bail-outs so far – the loan to Greece last year and the set-up of the European Financial Stability Facility last May – have not yet cost the taxpayer a penny. These are loans backed by guarantees. Once we start resolving the crisis for real, it will get expensive.

Both are from Wolfgang Münchau, in a very good piece.  His bottom line:

I am not sure which crisis Ms Merkel’s resolution mechanism is going to resolve. The one I have been observing for the past year will carry on.

The culture that is Sweden

In recent decades, successive waves of immigrants have been coming to Sweden, and many avail themselves of the laws and take Swedish-sounding names to hasten their integration.

Mr. Ekengren recalled a case a few years ago in which an immigrant family requested permission to be called Mohammedsson.

“Permission was granted,” he said.

The article is interesting throughout.

Assorted links

1. Are these positive or negative graveyard externalities?

2. Mark Steckbeck on TGS, and Steve Horwitz.  And Steve Sailer.  More from Bryan.

3. The mud brick architecture of Yemen.

4. What are the bestsellers in the Netherlands?  I just ordered book #1, which leads by a long way.

5. The loneliness of Chile.

6. Prophets of the Marginal Revolution (hat tip to Bryan Caplan, who oddly implies I predicted incorrectly).

A License to Kill Shampoo

The WSJ has a good piece on licensing, with the usual amusing stories.

Texas, for instance, requires hair-salon "shampoo specialists" to take 150 hours of classes, 100 of them on the "theory and practice" of shampooing, before they can sit for a licensing exam…

A shampoo specialist in Texas, for instance, learns about neck anatomy and must practice skills such as regulating water temperature. "There's a lot of different things that go into it," says Elizabeth Perez, the state's cosmetology program manager.

Morris Kleiner offers the economist's interpretation:

Licensing "Occupations prefer to be licensed because they can restrict competition and obtain higher wages,"….

Mr. Kleiner estimates that across the U.S. economy, occupational licensing adds at least $116 billion a year to the cost of services, which amounts to about 0.1% of total consumer spending. In a look at dentistry, Mr. Kleiner found that the average price of dental services rose 11% when a state made it more difficult to get a dental license.

Does licensing improve quality?

But whether licensing guarantees better-quality work is an open question. Several academic studies in the 1970s and '80s found that licensure boosted quality in professions such as dentistry, optometry, plumbing and real-estate sales. More recent studies have found no evidence that licensing improves the quality of teachers or mortgage brokers.

I love that last sentence. The WSJ does offer some interesting tests:

…a look at consumer complaints about manicurists suggests licensing doesn't necessarily correlate with quality.

Alabama has perhaps the strictest licensing requirements in the nation: 750 hours of schooling and a written and practical exam. The state gets, on average, four public complaints a year about poor service, according to the Alabama Board of Cosmetology.

Connecticut, which doesn't require manicurists to get licenses, has averaged just six complaints a year to the state over the past five years. Two-thirds of those complaints are about gift certificates that aren't honored, according to data from the consumer protection division of the state attorney general's office.

Certification can serve many of the legitimate roles of licensing without the anti-competitive effects of licensing. I hope that is OK with you.

Addendum: Doug in the comments points us to this instant classic in the Palm Beach Post comparing unlicensed hair dressers, "garage cutters," to back-alley abortionists and quoting one salon owner:

"Even with the standards we have, you see a lot of dry hair and wrong color. Imagine what we'd have without these regulations."

How do Maryland and Virginia differ?

From Jared Sylvester, a loyal TCEDG reader:

I was reading through your dining guide, looking for a place to go with my father this weekend.  In your write up of Crisfields [http://tylercowensethnicdiningguide.com/?p=561] you said "The accompanying visit to Silver Spring is an object lesson in how Maryland and Virginia differ."  I was wondering if you would mind blogging on that topic.

Let's restrict (most of) this to the adjacent parts of each state.  The food says a lot: Maryland has kosher food and Caribbean food.  Virginia has better Bolivian, Vietnamese, Korean, Afghan, Ethiopian, and Persian food.  (Here is a new piece on minorities in Virginia.)  Both have excellent Sichuan food.  Both have very good El Salvadoran and Thai food.  Neither has real barbecue.  Maryland used to have better Indian food, now Virginia has much better Indian food, including dosas.  Apart from Bethesda, Maryland has virtually no "fine dining."  Maryland has many more Russians, albeit without a decent restaurant. 

Virginia has Tysons Corner, Tysons Mall I and II, The Palm, and a Ritz-Carlton, or in other words a lot of tacky, revenue-generating corporate assets.  Virginia has better and more consistent school systems.  Virginia has better Beltway on- and off-ramps.

Bethesda is better integrated into DC than is any part of Virginia, with Arlington playing catch-up.  Virginia has the airports, the Pentagon, a better business climate, and lower taxes.

The Pentagon and the military are central to my theory of why Virginia is such a well-run state.  Virginia has a major cash cow, to provide employment and taxable incomes, yet unlike Alaska's oil revenue, it is not one that the state government can get its hands on beyond general sources of tax revenue.  The Pentagon, as a natural asset, does not foster corruption or complacency in the Virginia state government.  It is politically untouchable.  It makes Virginia a conservative yet interventionist and technocratic state.  Maryland has more inherited blight. 

Virginia has more ugly colonial houses, and more arches and pillars, Maryland has more tacky old American box houses.  I dislike ugly colonial.

Virginia feels more like an assortment of minorities working within an essentially Protestant framework.  Maryland was originally founded as a Catholic colony.

Looking to the state as a whole, Virginia doesn't have a proper city; Norfolk and Virginia Beach are agglomerations based around what are traditionally non-urban rationales.  I bet people in California, or for that matter Shenzhen, don't even know they are cities at all.  The third largest city, Chesapeake, no one has heard of, or cares about, if not for the nearby Bay.  Other parts of Maryland, such as you find along the Susquehanna, were long integrated into more northerly and westerly trade routes.  Virginia's major waterways lead to the sea.

I've long lived in Virginia, and never wanted to live in Maryland, even if I could equalize the commute.

Sentences to ponder, the progress of health

Even in health care the big explosion was 1900 to the 1960s, when life expectancy rose from 47 (only modestly above Roman levels), to about 70 (only modestly below current levels.) 

That is from Scott Sumner and the post is interesting throughout, also see Scott's additions in the comments.  It is odd that many people are citing health improvements as evidence against my arguments for a slowdown in progress for the median individual, when, as Scott's quotation indicates, the opposite is more likely the case.  Scott is a very literal reader, in the best sense of that term, and thus he is careful not to confuse my claims with weaker and less defensible versions of related ideas (and there are indeed many of those).

Here is Michael Mandel, arguing that the innovation slowdown starts in 1998-2000, rather than the early to mid 1970s, and attributing it largely on the biosciences.

Sentences to ponder Market Watch in Everything

From David Williamson:

Twitter followers have become more valuable in the last 2 years, apparently.  Now it starts at $5 for 100 Twitter followers on Yanalo.com, much less than the earlier 4000 for $13 on TweepMe.com.  Followers on TweepMe, the original site mentioned on Markets in Everything now go for $0.06 each.

Original MR post: http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2009/05/markets-in-everything-2.html


Observations about Chinese (Chinese-American?) mothers

I agree with many of Bryan Caplan's views on parenting, and Yana can attest that I have never attempted a "dragon mother" style.  Yet I think that Bryan is overreaching a bit in rejecting virtually all of Amy Chua's claims.  The simpler view — which most Americans intuitively grasp — is that some Asian parenting styles do make kids more productive, and better at school, although it is less clear they make the kids happier.  It remains the case that most people overrate how much parenting matters in a broader variety of contexts, and in that regard Bryan's work is hardly refuted.  Still, I see real evidence for a parenting effect from many (not all) Asian-American and Asian families.

1. James Flynn argues, using evidence from tests, that Chinese families boosted their children's IQs by intensive parental techniques.  Based on some very specific research, he claims the parenting was causal and the IQ boost followed.  I hardly consider this the final word, but it's more to the point that the adoption studies and the like, which don't try to measure this effect directly and don't have measures of strict Asian parenting.

2. It is obvious that some Asian parenting techniques make the children much more likely to succeed as classical musicians.  It's a big marginal effect upon whatever genetic influence there might be (and in this case the genetic influence might well be zero or very small; Chinese hardly seem genetically superior in music.)  The only question is how much longer this list can become.  What else can the parents make their kids better at, even relative to IQ?  Future engineering success?  If violin is a slam dunk, I don't see why engineering is a big stretch.

3. I suspect that Bryan and his wife do, correctly, apply the notion of "high expectations" to their children and to the benefit of those kids. 

4. Bryan, like Judith Harris, argues that the influence of parents is typically mediated through peers and peer effects.  But we should not confuse the partial and general equilibrium mechanisms here.  For any single parent, the peers may well carry the chain of influence to their child and a lot of the parenting style applied to that individual kid will appear irrelevant.  But for the culture as a whole, the peers can serve this function only because of the general influence of culture and parenting on all of the peers as a whole.  In other words, peer quality is endogenous and a single family is free-riding upon the parenting efforts of others.  That's a better model than just looking at the partial equilibrium coefficient on the parent effect and concluding that parenting doesn't matter.  This is a mistake commonly made by Harris fans.

5. As an aside, I wonder how much there is a common Chinese parenting or mothering style.  Chua, of course, is from the Philippines.  It is estimated that about 20 percent of the children are China are "abandoned" by their parents — mothers too – typically as the parents move to the cities to take better jobs.  When Chua writes, to what extent is she referring to Chinese immigrant parenting styles, uniquely suited to new situations, and derived from Chinese culture but distinct nonetheless.

6. There is a significant literature on Chinese immigrant parenting styles, based on lots of empirical evidence, but I don't see anyone giving it much of a close look.  Here is a simple and well-known piece, not about Asians per se, arguing that "authoritative parenting" leads to superior performance in school.  There is also evidence that the effects accumulate rather than disappear over time.  There is a lot of research here, often quite disaggregated in its questions, and it goes well beyond the twin studies and it does not by any means always yield the same answers.

7. I expect great things from Scott Sumner's children.