Month: November 2011

Not From The Onion

Here’s an astounding illustration of my argument that “American students are not studying the fields with the greatest economic potential.”

The Nation: A few years ago, Joe Therrien, a graduate of the NYC Teaching Fellows program, was working as a full-time drama teacher at a public elementary school in New York City. Frustrated by huge class sizes, sparse resources and a disorganized bureaucracy, he set off to the University of Connecticut to get an MFA in his passion—puppetry. Three years and $35,000 in student loans later, he emerged with degree in hand, and because puppeteers aren’t exactly in high demand…he’s working at his old school as a full-time “substitute”…[earning less than he did before].

…Like a lot of the young protesters who have flocked to Occupy Wall Street, Joe had thought that hard work and education would bring, if not class mobility, at least a measure of security…But the past decade of stagnant wages for the 99 percent and million-dollar bonuses for the 1 percent has awakened the kids of the middle class to a national nightmare: the dream that coaxed their parents to meet the demands of work, school, mortgage payments and tuition bills is shattered.

What astounds me is not that someone could amass $35,000 in student loans pursuing a dream of puppetry, everyone has their dreams and I do not fault Joe for his. What astounds me is that Richard Kim, the executive editor of The Nation and the author of this article, thinks that the failure of a puppeteer to find a job he loves is a good way to illustrate the “national nightmare” of the job market. Even in a wealthy society it’s a privilege to have the kind of job that Kim thinks are the entitlement of the middle class. And, as Tyler says, we are not as wealthy as we thought we were.

In considering the plight of the puppeteer lets also remember that millions of the unemployed would be grateful to have a job that they don’t like.

By the way, should you be so inclined, Therrien has a Kickstarter project where you can voluntarily donate to create “a nationwide flowering of spectacle puppet theater joyously spreading a new public consciousness!” You may also wish to know that according to Mike Riggs at Reason:

The pro-puppet American Recovery and Reinvestment Act doled out $50,000 to the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta; $25,000 to the Sandglass Center for Puppetry and Theater Research in Vermont; and $25,000 to the Spiral Q Puppet Theater in Philadelphia.

Groucho Marx and T.S.Eliot (really)

Groucho cannot resist the compulsion to remind one of literature’s most famous expatriates of his origins: “Dear Tom…I think I read somewhere that your first name is the same as Tom Gibbons’, a prizefighter who once lived in St Paul.” He is quite open about his ignorance of the very public details of the poet’s life: “My best to you and your lovely wife, whoever she may be.” He pushes Eliot’s origins in his face. In another letter he calls him an “early American, (I don’t mean that you are an old piece of furniture, but you are a fugitive from St Louis)…” In the same letter he relays to Eliot that “the name Tom fits many things. There was once a famous Jewish actor named Thomashevsky. All male cats are named Tom—unless they have been fixed.” He concludes by assuring the famously buttoned-down author that “I would be interested in reading your views on sex, so don’t hesitate. Confide in me.”

Here is much more, hat tip goes to Mike Tamada.

The study of science is hard

The excitement quickly fades as students brush up against the reality of what David E. Goldberg, an emeritus engineering professor, calls “the math-science death march.” Freshmen in college wade through a blizzard of calculus, physics and chemistry in lecture halls with hundreds of other students. And then many wash out.

Studies have found that roughly 40 percent of students planning engineering and science majors end up switching to other subjects or failing to get any degree. That increases to as much as 60 percent when pre-medical students, who typically have the strongest SAT scores and high school science preparation, are included, according to new data from the University of California at Los Angeles. That is twice the combined attrition rate of all other majors.

Could it be that too many people like being the smartest one in the room?  Or is it some other explanation?:

“But if you take two students who have the same high school grade-point average and SAT scores, and you put one in a highly selective school like Berkeley and the other in a school with lower average scores like Cal State, that Berkeley student is at least 13 percent less likely than the one at Cal State to finish a STEM degree.”

Here is the story, here is Alex’s earlier post.  Science itself is even harder.

Should redistributionists feel compelled to give more of their own money away?

What a juvenile argument!  I cited this riposte when I was in high school.  Nonetheless, looking back on it, I think it might be right.  Here is a version from Steve Landsburg, and a while ago Steve Moore wrote it up in the WSJ.  After all, if government action to redistribute income is morally required, in the meantime is not greater private charity morally required too?

There are plenty of redistributionist goals which do not require concerted collective action or threshold levels of contribution.  One person’s giving can make a big difference, especially if that person is wealthy.  You don’t have to be Bill Gates.  I’ve seen estimates that a few hundred dollars of giving can save a life (that’s from one of those OUP redistributionist philosophy books, the name of which escapes me at the moment), and while I think that is an exaggeration, surely a few thousand dollars should do the trick, less if you give wisely.  And you can do lots of good short of saving a life.

Maybe “it’s not fair” that one person should pony up now, but still the moral imperative of the giving, if sufficiently strong, might outweigh that consideration.  We are, after all, ethical pluralists.  Citing one argument against a giving obligation — “the unfairness of it all” — does not per se dismantle that obligation.  You still can do a lot of good with the gift.  And is not the obligation strong in the first place, precisely because the misery of the potential recipient is so extreme and attention-worthy?

Is it even more juvenile to mention that conservatives, on average, give more to charity than do (modern) liberals?

Karl Smith is irritated by the argument, but I don’t see that he offers a good response.  In general the responses I read or hear to this argument show a lot of emotion and not a lot of recognition of the strongest versions of the claim.  Even if this argument has a chance of truth of only 20 percent, that still should have force to alter behavior at the margin.  “There is a twenty percent chance I am morally compelled to give” is a real nudge toward “I should give more now,” if only, say, giving a fifth of what the full argument requires.  So “downgrade and dismiss” — a common rhetorical strategy — won’t work here.  If the argument has any life at all, it should hang like a millstone around the neck of egalitarians.

The best response is to accept the argument and admit one’s partial moral inferiority: “The people who give more, yes, in some important ways they are better people than I am.”

Addendum: Bryan Caplan nails it.

Why is NBA player-owner bargaining asymmetric?

Following up on the recent NBA lock-out post, some of you have asked why losses should be asymmetric across the two sides in the bargain.  Co-author Angus writes to me:

Re your commenters howling that the situation regarding losses is symmetric. It is NOT symmetric. (this is the part we didn’t do because of the basketweavers.)

First, the owners are losing net revenues, the players their gross revenues. Do we really think profits are >= labor costs?

Second and most important, owners are sacrificing SR net revenues for LR increases in franchise values from cost control. Players have no LR gains to motivate SR pain.

Owners have a LR view, players SR, so it makes much less sense for players to take a SR hit without a big offsetting gain.

In the comments, “fan” adds:

The reason the owners can hold out longer than the players is that the revenue/profits for the two sides are asymmetrical. Owners’ revenues are back-end weighted toward the second half of the season and playoffs, while the salaries are paid on a per (regular season) basis. So if the season is 40 games, player salaries are halved, but owners’ revenue drops by, say, 30%.

A commenter named Alex (not the MR Alex) writes:

While I think other commenters above are correct in the making the point that the two sides are asymmetrical, I don’t think that anyone has correctly explained the most important reason they are asymmetrical. The most important reason is the sides’ relative COSTS. It is correct that both sides are losing revenue. But while the players are avoiding a few of their costs, the owners are avoiding much more of their costs.

The bottom line: It’s not symmetric, even the basketweavers should see that.

Unoriginal, but simple, true, important, and neglected

Jesús Fernández-Villaverde, Pablo Guerrón-Quintanaz, and Juan F. Rubio-Ramírez report:

This paper examines how supply-side policies may play a role in fi…ghting a low aggregate demand that traps an economy at the zero lower bound (ZLB) of nominal interest rates. Future increases in productivity or reductions in mark-ups triggered by supply-side policies generate a wealth effect that pulls current consumption and output up. Since the economy is at the ZLB, increases in the interest rates do not undo this wealth effect, as we will have in the case outside the ZLB. We illustrate this mechanism with a simple two-period New Keynesian model. We discuss possible objections to this set of policies and the relation of supply-side policies with more conventional monetary and fi…scal policies.

Yes, there exists a model where the productivity shock has negative consequences, but don’t let “them” talk you into believing that model is relevant for today’s world.

The culture that is America (lawsuits in everything)

The wedding photos didn’t come out right, because they missed the last fifteen minutes of the event and there were only two hours of  video, and so:

Mr. Remis’s wedding took place in 2003 and he waited six years to sue. And not only has Mr. Remis demanded to be repaid the $4,100 cost of the photography, he also wants $48,000 to recreate the entire wedding and fly the principals to New York so the celebration can be re-shot by another photographer.

Re-enacting the wedding may pose a particular challenge, the studio pointed out, because the couple divorced and the bride is believed to have moved back to her native Latvia.

The full story (with photos) is here.

How much does downloading a book increase the weight of your Kindle?

Although the electrons were already present, keeping them still rather than allowing them to float around takes up extra energy – about a billionth of a microjoule per bit of data.

Using Einstein’s E=mc² formula, which states that energy and mass are directly related, Prof Kubiatowicz calculated that filling a 4GB Kindle to its storage limit would increase its weight by a billionth of a billionth of a gram, or 0.000000000000000001g.

This is roughly equivalent to the weight of a small virus, while the equivalent number of books – about 3,500 – would weigh approximately two tons.

And there you go, pointer courtesy of Mike Rosenwald.

The story continues

The fact that the EFSF was forced to delay its own bond issue on Wednesday has also hurt sentiment, as it calls into question not only its ability to fund Ireland and Portugal but also its value as a guarantor.

The Italian ten-year yield is now at 6.399, unsustainable territory, there is more here and here.  France and Germany have jointly “demanded an answer” from Greece, about continued eurozone membership, but it’s not clear who will be around to (non-credibly) answer that question.  Twitter is awash with rumors that Papendreou will be gone very, very soon.  They just dismissed all of the military leadership.  I believe it is now understood in Germany and France that they will be cutting Greece loose.

Here is one way to put it:

Italy is borrowing at 6.4% to lend to Greece at 3.5%. this will end well.

Meanwhile in Greece, via several loyal MR readers, there are more registered Porsche Cayennes than people reporting incomes over 50,000 euros a year.  You may recall my earlier prediction:

“Enter democracy, stage right” is the next act in the play.