Month: February 2014

How does teaching work in Singapore?

Importantly, teachers also broadly share an authoritative vernacular or “folk pedagogy” that shapes understandings across the system regarding the nature of teaching and learning. These include that “teaching is talking and learning is listening”, authority is “hierarchical and bureaucratic”, assessment is “summative”, knowledge is “factual and procedural,” and classroom talk is teacher-dominated and “performative”.

Clearly, Singapore’s unique configuration of historical experience, instruction, institutional arrangements and cultural beliefs has produced an exceptionally effective and successful system. But its uniqueness also renders its portability limited.


…teachers only make limited use of checking a student’s prior knowledge or communicating learning goals and achievement standards. In addition, while teachers monitor student learning and provide feedback and learning support to students, they largely do so in ways that focus on whether or not students know the right answer, rather than on their level of understanding.

The article, by David Hogan, is interesting throughout.

Are natural scientists smarter?

Social science professors at elite institutions are more likely to be religious and politically extreme than their counterparts in the natural sciences, argues a new paper in the Interdisciplinary Journal on Research and Religion. The reason? Natural scientists are just smarter, it says.

“There is sound evidence of a negative correlation between intelligence and religiosity and between intelligence and political extremism,” reads the paper, which examines existing data on academic scientists’ IQs by field, and on religious beliefs and political extremism among science professors in the U.S. and Britain. (An abstract of the paper is available here.) “Therefore the most probable reason behind elite social scientists being more religious than are elite physical scientists is that social scientists are less intelligent.”

The paper, written by Edward Dutton, adjunct professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Oulu, in Finland, and Richard Lynn, a retired professor of psychology from the University of Ulster, in Northern Ireland, who is known for his work on race and IQ, continues: “Intelligence is also a factor in interdisciplinary differences in political extremism, [with] physicists, who have high IQs, being among the least extreme and lower-IQ scholars being among the most extreme.”

There is more here, though I will note, without wishing to offend anyone in particular, that just about all of us are capable of being spectacularly dense, natural scientists included and these authors too.  I believe these correlations, to the extent they are true, are better explained by sociological factors than by IQ.  In the United States for instance various brands of humanities professors are in fact remarkably secular and I take this to be a stamp of a particular kind of affiliation to (and against) other social groups, not a sign of IQ in either direction.  Note also that political extremism has to select against low IQ at some margins, if only because the extreme doctrine involves a complicated ideological apparatus of some sort rather than just “folk morality.”

By the way, here is Dutton’s earlier 2010 piece “Why did Jesus Go To Oxford University?” (pdf), which suggests the smarter and more creative students are more likely to have evangelical religious experience.

What I’ve been reading

1. Larry Siedentop, Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism.  The author argues that Christianity is a fundamental moral revolution which later made liberalism possible.  Maybe so, and this book is an OK enough introduction to that idea, but I did not myself learn much new from it.  It is out now in the UK, but it is not clear when it is being published in the U.S.

2. Richard Marshall, Philosophy at 3 a.m.: Questions and Answers with 25 Top Philosophers.  They are all smart, most of the interviews are fun, and pretty early on in this book you realize they are not going to get anywhere at all.

3. Scott Phillips, University of America: A Non-Linear Blueprint for Higher Education in the 21st Century.  A new and interesting short eBook on reforming higher education:

The University of America is a conceptual model that dramatically reduces the barriers to entry for a college education for adult Americans. It proposes three structural changes to increase access to and significantly reduce the cost of getting a degree. They are:
• Create a ubiquitous, low-cost national testing infrastructure that is far more pervasive and accessible than what is available today;
• Divide content into fact-based vs. content-based modules with 75 percent of a standard 4-year degree being comprised of fact-based modules available for entirely independent learning and accreditation; and
• Require intensive residences for undergraduate degree completion.

4. Lila Abu-Lughod, Do Muslim Women Need Saving?  Parts of this book were interesting, but I think if I were a Muslim women I would have found it offensive, including the title.  What if someone wrote a book “Does Tyler Cowen Need Saving?” and decided “no.”  But then multiply by more than 500 million.  I can think of better questions to ask.  The author means well but the provocative title is a representation of what is in essence a re-colonialising the object of study.  Here is another, very different review of the work, indicative of how far we stand from having a good discourse on such matters.

And arrived in my pile:

5. Alen Mattich, Killing Pilgrim, Euro noir, but written by a financial journalist.

“If Obamacare reduces labor supply, will it raise wages?”

That is Greg Mankiw’s post title, Greg writes:

In a couple of recent articles written by smart economists, I have read the following claim: CBO says the incentives in the Affordable Care Act will reduce labor supply. If it does, then real wages will increase.

That sounds like reasonable, textbook economics. But I don’t think it is true. The problem is that the logic is entirely partial equilibrium. It is holding everything else constant. But that is surely not right in the long run. Lower wages mean lower income, which means lower saving, which means lower investment, which means a lower capital stock, which means lower productivity, which means lower labor demand.

Perhaps the easiest way to think about this issue is in the context of a Solow growth model. In the Solow model, the steady-state real wage is a function of technology, the saving rate, and the population growth rate. If labor supply per person suddenly falls by, say, 2 percent and stays there, the real wage will rise initially, but it will eventually return to its former level. Steady-state income per person falls by the full 2 percent.

One effect that might occur is a change in the composition of labor income. If the Act reduces labor supply primarily among the low-skilled, while not having that effect among the highly-skilled, then we might get a change in the relative wages of skilled and unskilled. But an overall increase in real wages seems unlikely.

In an increasing returns to scale model, of course, this problem becomes worse.

Swiss immigration controls are directed against those who are like the Swiss

There is in Switzerland the issue of low-skilled immigration.  But arguably more problematic — from a Swiss point of view — is precisely the immigration which feels most Swiss, such as the professionals who come from Germany.  Note that since the late 1990s Germans are the single largest group of immigrants coming to CH (pdf).  The Swiss, of course, fear the European Union juggernaut as a mechanism for taking away their sovereignty.  Having more Kosovars or more Sri Lankans in the country doesn’t strengthen the hand of the EU much.  Those are not EU groups anyway, non-EU migration into Switzerland has been falling for a long time, and besides those groups can be excluded from mainstream Swiss society with relative ease, if need be.  But German arrivals?  Many would gladly see Switzerland join the EU and at the very least it feels like the decision is no longer under the control of the Swiss themselves.  Furthermore they are not so different from German-speaking Swiss and they (sometimes) eat similar kinds of cheese.  And because they are so often highly skilled, and can fit in so well, they cannot easily be excluded (pdf) from positions of influence in Swiss society.

In other words, sometimes it is the skilled arrivals the domestic citizenry wishes to limit in numbers.  And you can see that the share of skilled immigrants has been increasing in Switzerland for years.  Here are some recent percentages.

This study by Sandro Favre (pdf) shows that a major wage impact of EU migration into Switzerland has been to cut down high wages at the top of the Swiss wage distribution.  So there is an economic motive too, and it is not the same story that is sometimes told about say southern California and Mexican competition with low-skilled American workers.

I, too, am a small country of sorts and I am glad I do not have thirty identical twins running around out there, competing against me or speaking on my behalf at meetings.  I would wish to exile them to other planets.

Persian Gulf fact of the day

Roughly one in five people has diabetes in the Persian Gulf region, according to doctors and the International Diabetes Federation, or IDF, and three countries—Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar—are in the top 10 nations globally for the highest prevalence of the disease. The other seven places are all taken by tiny islands in the Pacific Ocean, while Bahrain sits at position 12, the United Arab Emirates is 15 and Egypt is at 17.

There is more here.

Assorted links

1. After the food court closes.

2. Thursday night, a dialogue between me and Megan McArdle about her new book.

3. How to build truly cheap housing for the poor.

4. Rafael Yglesias on…a bunch of stuff, including Woody Allen.  And how will authors (but not Rafael) respond to the demand for binge reading?

5. The weight of rain.

6. There is no Japanese great stagnation.  And buy shares in a football player.

Equilibrium vs. disequilibrium?

Adolfo Laurenti writes on Facebook:

Reminiscences from Tyler Cowen‘s macroeconomics class: “there are three ways to think about market equilibrium: (i) markets are always in equilibrium, (ii) markets are sometimes in equilibrium, and (iii) markets are never in equilibrium. And (i) and (iii) are much closer and alike than (i) and (ii) or (iii) and (ii).” Is this Tyler’s oral tradition only? I do not know if he put this down in writing anywhere. Anyone with a reference?

I meant that as a Quinean point of course.

Who or what can check or limit the ECB?

A loyal MR reader, with expertise in this area, writes to me:

But this suggests an interesting thought experiment (regardless of the legality of OMT): suppose an ECB central banker were to overstep her/his legal authority and in doing so created all sorts of cross-border obligations.  Would we have to `undo’ this policy?  How is this individual to be policed?

In the US, the Fed is accountable to Congress.  If ever the Fed overstepped its mandate, in theory, Congress could pass laws, subpoena officials, etc. to reign them in.  In the Eurozone, the ECB was created without political overseers.  Neither the Commission nor the European Parliament can change the ECB’s mandate; only a treaty change can do that.  So if the ECB oversteps its mandate, this is a much more serious issue than if the Fed misbehaves.

If treaty law, the ultimate form of legal pre-commitment in the EU, governing the ECB can simply be cast aside whenever it is time-inconsistent, how should EU nations approach future treaty negotiations?  Ignoring the treaty law could be very detrimental for the long-run institutional evolution of the EU.  Few economists are willing to publicly entertain this prospect.​

Free economics resources on-line

Here is a bleg from Austin Frakt:

I’m looking for free or cheap, but good, resources on economics, ones people might use for self-education. I’ve listed some about which I’m aware below, though I haven’t looked in detail at all of them, so the extent to which they—or that to which they link—are “good” is not fully known to me. I’m specifically not looking for health economics, and my interest is a bit tilted toward micro vs. macro, but not strongly. Nevertheless, if you’re aware of good stuff in the econ realm of any flavor, or have used any of the following, let me know what you think.

Though they can be high-cost if bought new, feel free to mention textbooks you like. Sometimes one can find them used or older editions for prices that someone intending to self-educate might pay. For what it’s worth, the texts I’ve read most closely are by Cowen and Tabarrok. I was impressed by their micro book and also enjoyed their macro one, some of my thoughts on which are here. Also, I’ve read and contributed to Health Economics, by Santerre and Neun. With that bias in mind, I recommend it.

Comments are open (time limited).

Here is a free economics resources page from Walter Antoniotti.  Alex recommends this Preston McAfee text.

Does money make lottery winners more right-wing?

Lottery winners tend to switch towards support for a right-wing political party and to become less egalitarian, according to new research on UK data by Professor Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick and Professor Nattavudh Powdthavee of the London School of Economic and the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, University of Melbourne.

Their study, published as a new University of Warwick working paper under the title “Does Money Make People Right-Wing and Inegalitarian: A Longitudinal Study of Lottery Wins”, shows that the larger the win, the more people tilt to the right. The study uses information on thousands of people and on lottery wins up to 200,000 pounds sterling. The authors say it is the first research of its kind.

The article is here, via Charles Klingman.

The UAE will deliver some governmental services by drone

The United Arab Emirates says it plans to use unmanned aerial drones to deliver official documents and packages to its citizens as part of efforts to upgrade government services.

…Local engineer Abdulrahman Alserkal, who designed the project, said fingerprint and eye-recognition security systems would be used to protect the drones and their cargo.

Gergawi said the drones would be tested for durability and efficiency in Dubai for six months, before being introduced across the UAE within a year. Services would initially include delivery of identity cards, driving licenses and other permits.

There is more here, hat tip to the excellent Mark Thorson.

Assorted links

1. How to survive falling through ice, an illustrated guide.  And the fate of the Danish giraffe with ZMP genes, illustrated.

2. Is my job in another state?

3. Vending machine markets in everything: Vancouver, crack pipes.

4. “Choco Pies are an important mind-changing instrument…Other North Korea analysts have commented on the psychological meaning of Choco Pies to North Koreans…

5. “The goal is to get all of the town’s citizens’ chronotypes in an online database.” (the culture that is Bad Kissingen)

6. An information age glossary.

7. The WaPo’s new narrative journalism project.  And Knausgaard in The New Yorker.

John Cochrane’s excellent essay on on-line education

You will find it here, it is one of the very best short pieces written on this topic.  Excerpt:

A lot of mooc is, in fact, a modern textbook — because the twitter generation does not read. Forcing my campus students  to watch the lecture videos and answer some simple quiz questions, covering the basic expository material, before coming to class — all checked and graded electronically — worked wonders to produce well prepared students and a brilliant level of discussion. Several students commented that the video lectures were better than the real thing, because they could stop and rewind as necessary. The “flipped classroom” model works.

Read the whole thing.

The Swiss vote for immigration curbs: how much immigration is possible without a backlash?

Here is the news:

A narrow majority of voters in Switzerland on Sunday approved proposals that would reintroduce restrictions on the number of foreigners who are allowed to live and work in the country, a move that could have far-reaching implications for Switzerland’s relations with the European Union.

You will note:

Switzerland, which is not part of the European Union, has one of the highest proportions of foreigners in Europe, accounting for about 27 percent of the country’s population of about eight million.

In my view immigration has gone well for Switzerland, both economically and culturally, and I am sorry to see this happen, even apart from the fact that it may cause a crisis in their relations with the European Union.  That said, you can take 27% as a kind of benchmark for the limits of immigration in most or all of today’s wealthy countries.  I believe that as you approach a number in that range, you get a backlash.

That number will be higher when there is a frontier or a shortage of labor.  Those conditions do not generally hold in today’s wealthy countries.  Adam Ozimek reproduces data on immigration as a flow and stock relative to citizens, and as a stock Switzerland was third highest in the world with Luxembourg at over 32% and Israel over 27%.  I would say Israel does not count as their flows are largely a religious/ethnic unification from the former Soviet Union, in part with the purpose of protecting them against other potential population flows, to put it diplomatically.

The United States is 12th on the list with 12.1% foreign-born.  Referring to the flow of immigrants, Adam notes:

Instead of 1 million immigrants a year, these numbers suggest we could be letting in as many as 3 million a year and we would still not rank in the top 5.

And there I think you have the relevant range for what a more liberal immigration policy would look like or could look like.  I wonder by the way if for some reason small countries have an easier time swallowing high levels of migration, politically or culturally speaking, than do big countries.  That’s counterintuitive, but it’s what Adam’s tables seem to be suggesting.  (Is it because the small country is more culturally unified and thus somehow more secure?)  If you look at the top twelve countries in terms of receiving a flow of immigrants, only Spain is significantly above the 20 million population mark, with countries such as Iceland, Ireland, and New Zealand prominent (and I suspect a more recent measurement would boot Spain off this list altogether).  That would narrow the range of potential immigration increases even further for the United States.

One of my objections to the open borders idea is that I think it would be negative for sustainable, actually realized flows of immigration.

Addendum: Here is the distribution of voting across Switzerland, the Italian section was most anti-immigrant.  Here is Rachman on why the Swiss should not be punished.  Here is an excellent detailed analysis by Dennis MacShane.  Overall I see this as a broader political earthquake which will spread throughout Europe.