A Shruti Rajagopalan proposal on gender issues

I have a odd idea to improve diversity in the short run within the current system. Economists should create a convention (not rule) by setting the example that at least one of the reference letter writers should be female. I think this one small move could nudge people towards a big change. Young grad students will be more likely to work with women in a position of authority. Schools will try to find more senior level female economists for the department. And the young male colleagues might just behave a little better, if only to get a better working relationship and a reference from the female economist.


Do you think that female economists would like this? Having much more work to do for their students, and never knowing if it's because the student enjoys their research, or simply wants to advance their career?

Are they supposed to "like" it? And if people behave well, does their motive matter?

I would perhaps restrict the convention-not-requirement only to male applicants.

"never knowing if it’s because the student enjoys their research, or simply wants to advance their career"

Who ever knows the answers to this?

Ironic that you would complain that economists would receive requests motivated primarily by a due regard for their own interest.

You are correct, however, to note that increasing the workload of female economists might not be welcome and may have unintended side effects (e.g., women would have less time to devote to research and teaching and men would have more time on the margin...what could possibly go wrong?).

I see, Natasha, you are experiencing again the unbearable burden of atony, a vast declension, a manifest scaffolding, and yet you are able to conjure a spasm, any atom of release.

I think you meant unable, and diminishment, I'm too busy dealing crack in jack London park to have time to post on the blog. I'd rather make money.

"at least one of the reference letter writers should be female"

Then there'd be all these op-eds about how female economists have to engage in unpaid Emotional Labor and that's why they aren't doing groundbreaking scholarship.

Here's a suggestion for female economists ...

Economists have flourished in the 21st Century in part because they've developed a reputation for being a little less stifled by political correctness than other social scientists.

Female economists could engage in a branding exercise of depicting themselves as less ideologically and psychologically feminist. Women economists could try to be known as the female academics you want to deal with if you want to get things done rather than get denounced or sued for sexism.

You have a reputation for being less politically correct than most people and yet you're not very flourishing. Maybe economists have something else.

Hmmm do we think that senior academics like having the ability to shape the next generation of academics?

I suspect they do, if they didn't why would reference letters have any value?

I'm no economist, but the problem may be that male economists are afraid of women. It's understandable since women are scary, especially if one considers that the typical male economist isn't exactly the bell of the ball. There's a certain well-known male economist at a leading college who is also a well-known slob, with table manners fit for a pig (sorry pigs). What's with that? On the other hand, economics might just attract boars and boors.

Please tell me this is a faker and rayward hasn't gone this far into his senile dementia

So that is what America has become: a bunch of men begging reference letters from people they woukd otherwise avoid.

America has become a place where clever people use their intelligence to come up with ways to achieve results indirectly when direct approaches would trigger too much resistance and undesirable side effects resulting from too much awareness.

So if your goal is "more X", then you can't just set up a quota for X (Defoe: "The shortest way with the Diversity"), or invent overt double standards in which climbing the ladder is easier for X than Y. Like Souter wrote in Gratz, the winners are the ones who hide the ball through deliberate obfuscation regarding a device which had the same, desired effect.

And as Havel wrote about these devices, they must take the form of a requirement that on its surface indicates a level of disinterested conviction. It allows the professor and administrator to say, "What's wrong with requiring just one female reference?" Thus the device helps the student or professor to conceal from himself the low foundations of his obedience, at the same time concealing the low foundations of power. It hides them behind the facade of something high.

It is sad.

One could do "not my" gender, i.e., not female, not male, or not x where x is a variable of one's choosing? You could add other "not my" categories. It may not single out a particular category - arguably.

Good idea.

But how many genders to include?

It won't be fair unless all eleven genders are included.

Actually there are 151 genders. This article fails to mention or even acknowledge nonbinary or fluid economists, both deeply oppressed and underrepresented groups, making it deeply offensive along with being violent.

Gotta catch em all?

So basically, in this picture an economist is just a frustrated dean. All official and unofficial professional responsibilities can be perfectly substituted for by one extra formal input into the RPT (reappointments, promotions, tenure) process.

Problem is the same as with Affirmative Action. Now everyone will think you get publish only because you're female, not because you have quality work.

Why is it assumed that diversity is good? I want everyone to have an equal chance at doing what they want, if qualified and will to do the work. But who cares where this work comes from? Can't we just judge the quality of the work rather than the source? There were supposed to be benefits to diversity, but so far all we have done is watered down departments/classes/companies with no net benefits. As I stated above, AA just brings distrust unless you are actively working next to the person who got in as an AA hire, so net negative.

"Why is it assumed that diversity is good?", exactly, why? Diversity of thought is essential but what does it matter what sex, race etc it comes in? All this proposal will do is erode the quality of thought in the long term by judging people on their sex rather than their ideas.

This literally sounds like the least "economist"-like solution possible.

Vague social conventions instead of well-defined rules: check. Open to umpteen unpredictable second-order effects: check. Massive deadweight loss: check. Feel-good proposal with no way to quantify impact: check. Highly-externalized costs: check. Heavy emphasis on seen over unseen effects: check. No way for participants to trade obligations: check. No consideration of aggregate utility: check. Ignores that tax collection is not the same as tax incidence: check.

I don't know who Shruti Rajagopalan. But based off this, I'm presuming that he's the guy who came up with mercantilism, rent control, the mortgage interest deduction, and drug prohibition.

Funnily enough, this excellent list of objections is what I expected to hear from TYLER, our genial MR host.

Economists aren't about economics?

"I’m presuming that he’s the guy..."

I'm presuming Shruti is not a guy: http://shrutiraj.com/cv-and-bio/

This comment chain feels particularly salient.

But she teaches at a classical liberal institute.

That'll be one strategy to get around it, use someone with a foreign name and hope they don't look up Swatsamatriopo's gender.


Best reply of the month.

Look, every knows the 1988 bikini tragedy was the result of John Elway's 3rd and 2 decision, to run the ball. You run the ball to win. You run the ball to win. Why did Donald Rumsfeld imagine when he shook Sadam Hussein's hand? He knew the difference between Karl Sand and Karl Sack. Thus we cannot say that Burschenschaft is a bad word, it is not as Natasha would have it, degenerate. It you will it dude, it is no dream, as the great poet John Goodman said once. Sadam peed on Noam Chomsky's rug. Pomerianianly speaking, in the parlance of the times. "Noam Chomsky interviewed by Lillian R. Putnam
Reading Instruction Journal, Fall 1987"

Terrible idea. Did he just propose the first idea that popped into his head?

Isotopesia plurality

Perhaps economics and science journals should anonymize the authors of papers till six months after publication. Remove gender bias as well as argument from authority by big names.

Anime has done more to preserve western, American culture than the Republican Party ever has.

No, internet stalking has done more.

He never cared for much the laugh that was to follow his droll statements. The green dark type at the end of a long dark bark in c'est moi tavern. But that was old reverend green to a tree.

Art, it's not me. Real talk.

Good idea! I was thinking the same thing. Orchestra tryouts used to be blind, behind-the-curtain, listening tests. Solves many problems.

"Perhaps economics and science journals should anonymize the authors of papers till six months after publication."
Then how would I know if a paper is self-recommending or straussian?

Anonymizing contributions to academic journals has generally resulted in fewer women being published. https://necpluribusimpar.net/not-lose-friends-alienate-people-talking-women-philosophy/

I'm not sure that anonymizing authors would have positive effects. There are so many papers! Knowing who the author is is an incredibly helpful heuristic when searching for good things to read.

Don't most professors hate writing recommendation letters?


What's a "reference letter writer"...is that a designated function within a department?

No, but now that you mention it....

It's well established now that the "gender pay gap" does not exist, because differences in personal priorities adequately explain why women choose lower paying jobs than men and/or spend less time on jobs than men. Shouldn't it be obvious that the same facts also explain the fact that fewer women than men become economics profs, or choose any other particular occupation where they are in the minority?

In which case there is no need for this kind of "diversity," and the very idea should simply be laughed off. Especially by economists.

"It's well established now" - is it well-established now? How many job science guys are there, and how many of them agree?

I'm surprised this proposal made it this far and wasn't taken as an Onion article suggestion.

the results of this change, if implemented:

female professors now spend 90% of their time choosing which princelings get promoted, and can no longer contribute meaningfully to their own research careers because all of their time is spent "mothering" undergrads. male professors regain whatever proportion of their time was spent working on relationships with undergrads.

I say they'll trade the letters for sex or drugs.

That approach could help African-Americans, Hispanic, and trans economists too.

Are you suggesting that one should get seperate reference letters from a female, an African-American, etc etc, or is the idea that one should rather track down that one African-american-hispanic-female-trans economist and get her/him/zer to sign the thing? Either way, sounds like a lot of useless effort.

Tell Donald McCloskey he can take care of his brother kooks.

Oh how I miss the dark ages of 2007 when "gender" was a checkbox in a form. For crying out loud, if Tyler thinks this kind of stuff I can only imagine how painful it would be to work with actual liberals...

Tyler's not an 'actual liberal'. He's just ever ready to cave to them.

As we speak, 52% of the doctoral degrees in this country awarded in a typical year go to women. So do 48% of the degrees in social research disciplines. About 36% of the degrees awarded in economics are awarded to women.

About a dozen years ago, Erin O'Connor noted that 90% of the graduate students in the English department at Penn were female and no one in the department seemed to think that the least bit odd. Fairness.

I know this is a real Art Deco post because it includes stats and figures with no sources or citations

It is interesting to see these posts on MR, given that PsychologyToday.com has been frequently reporting on a different but related issue: the neglect of boys in the American education system and their worsening scholastic performance and graduation rates. (See, for example, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/real-men-dont-write-blogs/201708/the-young-american-male-shameful-chronology-neglect

It's interesting that people are still trying to correct perceived anti-female systemic biases even as male students' outcomes have been lagging those of females for many years now.

It's unlikely that both things are true, at least on a systemic level. So who's right and who's wrong?

Again, the core of feminism is this assumption: women have options; men have obligations.

Exactly. Still waiting for the day when most firefighters and police on the frontline are women. I don't see a lot of movement in that area.

hint: not every systemic bias has to permate through all of society. this may be too nuanced for a commenter on this website, but acknowledging the existence of anti-woman bias in economics doesn't preclude issues with boys in other parts of the educational system. i know libertarianism has caused the part of your brain that processes nuance to decay, but surely even you can understand this.

Again, 52% of the doctoral degrees in this country are awarded to women, including 48% of those in social research disciplines. Women are more common in some disciplines than others. There's no particular reason to believe that this maps to 'anti-woman bias' as opposed to the distribution of preferences between men and women.

And even if there were such biases, they will be demographically eliminated as the current crop of elementary schoolers hit grad school in a few short years. That's the whole point. In light of what's happening to young boys in school at the earliest ages, creating a pro-female policy at the graduate level will result in an anti-male systemic bias in less than twenty years' time.

But I wouldn't expect someone who can't even use capital letters, but whose first inclination is to criticize someone else's brain, to grasp that on the first pass, so we must be a little tolerant here.

Notice what happened this year in Britain after they made the tests harder, eliminated the "who was Laplace" questions and so required that the test takers demonstrate they grasped the material by solving problems: the boys regained the lead. This rung true with me as I noticed over the years that my sons' school math and science books were replacing proofs and the working through of lots of problems with salient people stories - even in middle school (so off to private school we went - Hello Euclid). Recall also Brown Univ medical school's clever way to increase diversity - eliminate organic chemistry. Or Cal State's plan proposal to eliminate algebra II as a prerequisite for statistics. Maybe they're not really changing the people who constitute the profession; they're just changing the profession to fit a different group of people.

Right. 'Cause female academics really need to devote more time to "community service" obligations.

How about requiring every male economist to PUBLISH a study with a female economist?

Would it be rude to laugh?

Next to a spoiled princess, we should include at least an African-American and an LGBT person in the author list.

How about female economists providing incentives for male economists to publish with them? Sounds more efficient.

Have you invited a younger colleague to publish with you? What led you to do so? Have you done it again? Just asking - hope you will reply.

Currently before our review committee is a paper I wrote with an older female colleague. I approached her about it a year and a half ago as I felt her skill set would appropriately augment mine. I certainly wasn't throwing her a bone. The incentive for me to approach her I suppose was her expertise and the value I felt it would add to the study.

So self-interested altruism. Mothers everywhere would be so proud. In the long term the see-saw will level out on its own and may eventually tilt the other way. Just remember that whatever solution you choose, women have long memories.

Now that economics is a branch of sociology, can we just ignore it?

Here is an even more effective way which is [maybe] only slightly more annoying. Make search committees pick a candidate in each protected category. Then, using probabilities selected to meet your affirmative action goals, let a random variable algorithm pick which one you get.

Frankly, as a highly degreed minority, I have always found the "Diversity makes us better" argument insulting.

Suppose it is true - having a diverse faculty makes everyone in the institution more productive as it gets more "diverse" (however measured). Okay, then suppose you have a surplus of majority candidates such that getting enough diversity is non-trivial. Okay, then what rational administer would not immediately hire individually weaker candidates (graduated from a less selective post-graduate institution, has fewer publications, is less well respected by peers , etc.) solely for their effect on other individuals? If diversity truly made everyone better it would be instantly self-correcting.

So what would it then mean when you are literally investing millions of dollars into maintaining minority recruitment? That absent department-wide diversity effects, the minority candidates you hire are substantially weaker. I.e. they are so much weaker that their department-wide effects merit all this recruitment spending ... and they are still so weak on average that you would rather take the majority candidate(s) in spite of this.

The greater the positive effect of diversity and the greater the costs of the outreach effort, the weaker candidates would have to be for the status quo to prevail.

And how weak would candidates have to be when you cannot solve the problem just by waiving around money? After all, bright people respond to incentives so dumping cash directly on minority candidates should rectify all but the most expensive propositions for cheaper than inflexible rules. Rules are for when things are too expensive to buy out of or when one party would gain an advantage by freeloading.

Oh but there is racism/sexism/etc.ism. Really? Exactly how strong are the effectively racist/sexist/etc.ist behaviors that you cannot just pay people to avoid them? Like say by making their promotions contingent on them not acting too poorly? Have we seen any quantifiable reduction in racist/sexist/etc.ist behaviors from financial incentives?

People double their sustained nicotine quit rates when we pay them in the short term to quit (something like $1000 doubles chemically confirmed quit rates); do we really think racism/sexism/etc.ism is a stronger behavior modulator than one of the most addicting substances known to man? If diversity is truly all that intrinsically valuable then it should be fairly trivial to just pay the old guard $5000 or $10,000 not to act racist/sexist/etc.ist. Particularly given how bad overt racism/sexism/etc.ism used to be; it is kind of hard to see so little change in the equilibrium "price" with such a dramatic decrease in racism.

The supposition that diversity is massively efficient leads to some very depressing conclusions:

1. Administrators, even economists, are terrible value optimizers. To the point where they should all be fired.

2. Racism/sexism/etc. is so powerful that it is more resistant to behavior modification than things like nicotine, heroine, or opioids.

3. Minority applications are the absolute dregs of the profession on average, literally worth burning millions of dollars on targeted outreach without actually achieving recruitment goals rather than hiring the next best minority application who did not get a comparable job.

Alternatively if diversity is of low institutional value then small amounts of racism/sexism/etc.ism might handily swamp it. Minority applicants might be only slightly worse than the majority applicants who win the position instead. Value optimization may require more effort than it is worth.

I do not believe we in the minority are that much less competent. Likewise, when I am in the majority (e.g. by gender in my profession), I cannot fathom us being that sexist and so unable to change in spite of massive incentives. So no, please do not insult me by claiming diversity is so valuable without massive proof.



once more, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIDOEsQL7lA


The genius of a suggestion like this is that it helps gynocentrists play both sides of the fight:

1. Person A - like the proposer in this case - makes a gynocentric proposal supporting a certain form of "positive" discrimination in favor of women;
2. Person B attacks person A's proposal for how the said discrimination works negatively on women.

This way, all the time we see culture wars where the players on both sides are from the (social) left.

Result: Cultural conquest by cognitive overload, so that people are gradually conditioned into thinking of the issue only from one of the gynocentric perspectives on any given subject.

Judging from a good proportion of the comments here, it seems like even the best, most well-thought-out proposals to address diversity (not that this is necessarily one of those) won't work, if people decide that diversity isn't worth having in the first place. Finding a solution is hard if you don't think the problem even exists.

But that "good proportion of the comments" comes from commenters like me who have no power or influence. Among those in power, the voices that we get to hear almost inevitably support diversity.

Though in some sense you are right: in the sense that that those who have power and influence actually don't care for diversity; they are only there to lobby for women against men. Otherwise, you would see them lobbying for more male entry into female-dominated professions, which would also reduce the extent to which men crowd into STEM, economics etc.

In other words, it is just identity politics dressed up as something that seems more acceptable on paper.

The male-dominated professions pay better than the female-dominated professions like caring or retail. That's a pretty good reason to encourage entry, if you don't want a society where women are mostly dependents on men / the state.

You missed my point, so let me dumb it down for you. Suppose that there are 16 job vacancies, 10 high paying and 6 low paying. If the society expects men to take up only the high paying ones, and women face no such societal pressure, do you think it is realistic (I am not saying "moral") to expect that the high paying jobs will split as 5-5 between men and women?

James Damore also made a very similar point in his memo.

Forgot to add: the example is for a very small society of size around 40, so that the 10+6 division really matters to the society as a whole.

The point *all* of you miss is that many smart women who have a preference for caring can choose to go into caring; that doesn't apply to smart men who have a preference for caring. That skews the applicant pool for the higher-paying jobs in favor of men.

Here is another error in elementary reasoning that you are making. It is not like everyone who is on a low/middle-paying job is dependent on someone who is on a high-paying job.

So if you want to measure dependency, you should look at the poorest of the society, not the richest. Who do you think are over-represented among the homeless - men or women?

Wrong. There are many high-paying jobs dominated by women, including nursing and veterinary science, each of which pays more than tech jobs.

Something I was thinking about. I happen to work at a big company, over 100K employees worldwide.

Let's say you have a big company that suddenly expands its workforce dramatically. Say a pharma company scores a few big blockbuster drugs. Let's say it goes from 75,000 to 100,000 workers. What incentives are at play?

Well as a shareholder or top manager I would want the company to hire the best people possible. So out of billions of people worldwide, the top 25,000 people should be a very impressive bunch. If anything I would expect the company to accelerate its growth dramatically.

As a worker, though, how many times does one hear something like "hey, you have a job for so and so over there?"? Suddenly hiring more people means workers will have lots of chances to try to land jobs for friends and family. Often companies even encourage this by paying 'referral bonuses' on the theory that this will save on recruiting fees. Sites like LinkedIn operate on the premise that the best way to fill empty spots is to get in with someone on the inside of the company that has inside knowledge of an open spot.

Unless the company is exceptionally lucky and has an existing workforce that just happens to be friends or family with the world's best candidates, odds are the expansion will lower the quality of the average worker rather than increase it. For the top management of the company they are literally outnumbered. There are thousands of managers below them making hiring decisions and those managers are only responsible for a small piece of the company's performance. Their inclinations will be to draw first from the 'friends and family' pool rather than really find the top talent and compete for it.

This implies to me that left to its own devices, the company will veer towards less diversity over time and growth. This is not due to any direct motive for managers to discriminate in hiring but the indirect incentive for workers to want to work in an environment that looks more like their collection of Facebook friends than a team of top performers who may be the best mix for the whole enterprise.

It follows from that that these incentives should be countered from the top by policies that are designed to counter them.

lol. Merit-based selection produces optimal results and will contain some diversity, whereas networking produces sub-optimal results and may have less diversity, therefore we should establish diversity-based selections to improve results. That doesn't logically follow. just fyi

"Merit based selection" carries some hidden assumptions here:

1. Merit is easily measured and ranked. This is easy if, say, you're forming an Olympic weight lifting team. Have an open tryout and select the people who can lift the heaviest weights. Anything else it gets more complicated. How about forming a football team? Metrics like speed and strength are only proxies that may imperfectly tell you how a team would perform as a whole. For something like a large corporation it becomes even less obvious how you do a pure merit system that isn't better than guessing.

2. I would say 'merit' to middle and lower management runs more along the lines of "who do I think I would work well with" whereas top management would seek overall performance. For a large organization more of the hiring will come from the bottom than the top. You have essentially an agency problem going on here.

And your solution is quotas for women, or what?

Not necessarily, the above idea for example is not a quota system. There's no guarantee plenty of women wouldn't be happy to write references for male candidates so it wouldn't result in any long run change in the gender ratio. It is an idea though....

Note the US Constitution was set up as essentially a quota/affirmative action type system. Unlike pure democracy, the system was set up to ignore the democratic vote when it is geographically concentrated both by the electoral college and the set up of the Senate.

"Unless the company is exceptionally lucky and has an existing workforce that just happens to be friends or family with the world’s best candidates"

There's a saying that ducks fly with ducks. If a valuable employee recommends a person then it's likely that person will also be a valuable employee. They go through the same testing and interview process, but you also have more information as to conscientiousness and such. There are also network effects and pressure for that person to produce greater than a cold hire. This is the reason companies do this, because it works.

So, on average, better information and incentives mean a better hire.

Unlikely IMO. If a company started with an eye towards the best because its survival is at stake then the original 'crop' of workers is probably above average. When the company is comfortable and starts hiring based on people 'getting a job for cousin/nephew/buddy/ etc' odds are the those people will not be of the average quality as the originals. They might be above average generally based on your theory that above average people will be friends with other above average but I suspect you'll see lower quality. The next round of hiring, of course, brings you down to the average that much faster.

Pardon my cynicism but this would be a good way to get more good-looking, charming male economists. Revenge of the nerds might be over.

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