Month: July 2018

Gendered language

Languages use different systems for classifying nouns. Gender languages assign many — sometimes all — nouns to distinct sex-based categories, masculine and feminine. Drawing on a broad range of historical and linguistic sources, this paper constructs a measure of the proportion of each country’s population whose native language is a gender language. At the cross-country level, this paper documents a robust negative relationship between the prevalence of gender languages and women’s labor force participation. It also shows that traditional views of gender roles are more common in countries with more native speakers of gender languages. In African countries where indigenous languages vary in terms of their gender structure, educational attainment and female labor force participation are lower among those whose native languages are gender languages. Cross-country and individual-level differences in labor force participation are large in both absolute and relative terms (when women are compared to men), suggesting that the observed patterns are not driven by development or some unobserved aspect of culture that affects men and women equally. Following the procedures proposed by Altonji, Elder, and Taber (2005) and Oster (2017), this paper shows that the observed correlations are unlikely to be driven by unobservables. Using a permutation test based on the structure of the language tree and the distribution of languages across countries, this paper demonstrate that the results are not driven by spurious correlations within language families. Gender languages appear to reduce women’s labor force participation and perpetuate support for unequal treatment of women.

That is from a new World Bank working paper by Pamela Jakiela and Owen Ozier, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.  Kevin also points us to a new study indicating that East Asians smile fifty percent less than Americans.

Simplifiers vs. constructors in science

Simplifiers give one a better overall picture of how the world works, whereas constructors are trying to build something.  The balance seems to be shifting, for instance in physics:

Within the Physics label…we find the simplifiers dominated three quarters of the Nobel Prizes from 1952 to 1981, but more recently constructors have edged the balance with more than half of those from 1982 to 2011.

There is also a shift toward constructors in chemistry, though it is less abrupt.  In the fields of physiology and medicine, however, simplifiers reign supreme and there has been no shift across time.  Three-quarters of the prizes are still going to simplifiers.

Does that mean we should be relatively bullish about progress in those areas, based on forthcoming fundamental breakthroughs?

All these points are from Jeremy J. Baumberg’s new and interesting The Secret Life of Science: How It Really Works and Why It Matters.

What I’ve been reading and browsing

1. Gaël Faye, Small Country.  Short, readable, and emotionally complex, one of my favorite novels so far this year.  Think Burundi, spillover from genocide, descent into madness, and “the eyes of a child caught in the maelstrom of history.”  Toss in a bit of romance as well.

2. David Edgerton, The Rise and Fall of the British Nation: A Twentieth Century History.  I’m only on p.34, but this one is spectacular and I expect to read it closely all the way through.  You’ll probably hear about it more in future blog posts.  He takes on many myths about British postwar decline, for instance, arguing that British business actually did pretty well in the 1950s and 60s.  Right now it is out only in the UK, but the above link still will get you a copy.  Here is a good Colin Kidd review in New Statesman: “Every so often a book comes along that the entire political class needs to read.”

3. Karl Ove Knausgaard, Inadvertent (Why I Write).  92 short pp. on how he thinks about writing, consistently high in quality, the contrast between Kundera and Hamsun was my favorite part.

Laurence M. Ball, The Fed and Lehman Brothers: Setting the Record Straight on a Financial Disaster is a very serious and useful book.  The Fed could have saved Lehman Brothers and didn’t, partly because of political pressures, and partly because they underestimated the damage it would cause to the economy.  Ball documents what I have supposed from the time of the event.

Cass R. Sunstein, The Cost-Benefit Revolution.  Not since the 1970s has cost-benefit analysis been as underrated as it is right now.

Joy Lisi Rankin, A People’s History of Computing in the United States appears to be interesting.  It tries to liberate the history of American computing from the usual emphasis on Silicon Valley, and offers greater focus on Dartmouth, Minnesota, and other less studied locales.

Friday assorted links

*Kolyma Stories*, by Varlam Shalamov

It is difficult to express just how good these Gulag short stories are.  I would very literally second the blurb by David Bezmozgis:

“As a record of the Gulag and human nature laid bare, Varlam Shalamov is the equal of Solzhenitsyn and Nadezhda Mandelstam, while the artistry of his stories recalls Chekhov. This is literature of the first rank, to be read as much for pleasure as a caution against the perils of totalitarianism.”

That is not blurb inflation.  Note that the book is long (734 pp. of stories), and the reading is slow, mostly because the narratives lack redundant information, not because they are clumsy or awkwardly written.  It also takes perhaps a few stories to get into the swing of things and figure out how the fictional yet not fictional universe works here.  But the content is entirely gripping, and full of social science.  You can buy it here.   A second volume from this translator will appear in 2019, completing the series.

An earlier version of the work, with a different translation and less complete, was published in 1995.  By the way, here is the author’s Wikipedia page.

Have you ever wondered how the contemporary world would react if a masterpiece were dropped into its midst?  If your guess was “with a fair amount of indifference unless it was Elena Ferrante and even then it wouldn’t really change anything except give rise to probably what will be a mediocre television series”…well, you were right.  For Shalamov, I don’t yet see an Amazon review.

Here is my earlier post on what Varlam Shalamov learned in the Gulag.

Teacher wages and upward mobility

From David Card, Ciprian Domnisoru, and Lowell Taylor, the last few sentences are the most interesting:

We use 1940 Census data to study the intergenerational transmission of human capital for children born in the 1920s and educated during an era of expanding but unequally  distributed public school resources. Looking at the gains in educational attainment between parents and children, we document lower average mobility rates for blacks than whites, but wide variation across states and counties for both races. We show that schooling choices of white children were highly responsive to the quality of local schools, with bigger effects for the children of less-educated parents. We then narrow our focus to black families in the South, where state-wide minimum teacher salary laws created sharp differences in teacher wages between adjacent counties. These differences had large impacts on schooling attainment, suggesting an important causal role for school quality in mediating upward mobility.

This result is not logically inconsistent with the signalling model, but I think it fits more readily into the human capital story.  If you think employers cannot easily distinguish between different qualities of worker (without the educational signal, that is), probably you also should think employers cannot distinguish among the quality of adjacent schools on the basis of what they pay their teachers in relative terms.  And in that case, the schools hiring the better teachers are probably increasing the productivity of their students.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Samir Varma.

Canadian immigration sentences to ponder

It’s that commitment to policing immigration that has, paradoxically, sustained such high levels of support…

As for illegal and irregular immigration, Canadian governments from both ends of the political spectrum have worked—quietly—to ensure there is as little of it as possible. The unspoken underpinning of Canada’s otherwise welcoming immigration policy is a giant and assiduously maintained border wall…

Despite Canada’s open-door reputation, the country has some of the world’s most restrictive visa rules. A World Economic Forum survey of travel and tourism professionals ranked Canada among the worst in the world—120th out of 136 countries—for the restrictiveness of its visitor visa requirements. It’s a quiet but effective means of preempting irregular immigration.

That is from Tony Keller, the piece has other points of interest, such as how border-jumping from the U.S. is a major factor causing the Canadian immigration consensus to fray.  And don’t forget this:

Since the late 1980s, Canada has consistently been a high-immigration country, at least relative to the U.S. As a result, the proportion of Canadians born outside the country hit 21.9 percent in 2016. That same year, America’s foreign-born population was 13.4 percent. That’s a record high for the U.S.—but it’s been 115 years since Canada’s foreign-born population was at such a low level.

Under one simple model here, people need to feel in control before they will entertain further liberalization.

The Long-run Effects of Teacher Collective Bargaining

By Michael Lovenheim and Alexander Willén:

Teacher collective bargaining is a highly debated feature of the education system in the US. This paper presents the first analysis of the effect of teacher collective bargaining laws on long-run labor market and educational attainment outcomes, exploiting the timing of passage of duty-tobargain laws across cohorts within states and across states over time. Using American Community Survey data linked to each respondent’s state of birth, we examine labor market outcomes and educational attainment for 35-49 year olds, separately by gender. We find robust evidence that exposure to teacher collective bargaining laws worsens the future labor market outcomes of men: in the first 10 years after passage of a duty-to-bargain law, male earnings decline by $2,134 (or 3.93%) per year and hours worked decrease by 0.42 hours per week. The earnings estimates for men indicate that teacher collective bargaining reduces earnings by $213.8 billion in the US annually. We also find evidence of lower male employment rates, which is driven by lower labor force participation. Exposure to collective bargaining laws leads to reductions in the skill levels of the occupations into which male workers sort as well. Effects are largest among black and Hispanic men. Estimates among women are often confounded by secular trend variation, though we do find suggestive evidence of negative impacts among nonwhite women. Using data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, we demonstrate that collective bargaining laws lead to reductions in measured non-cognitive skills among young men.

Here is the NBER link, via Matt Yglesias.

Who’s complacent?

A strata on Vancouver Island is experiencing a backlash after passing a bylaw last week banning outdoor play — a rule that is not unusual but goes further than most, according to the Condominium Home Owners’ Association of B.C.

In B.C., ownership in condominiums, apartments or townhouses sharing common areas is often purchased through an owners’ corporation under a strata title. The owners elect a council that sets policy for the strata.

Artisan Gardens, a neighbourhood development in Chemainus, about 80 kilometres north of Victoria, voted 15-4 in favour of adopting a bylaw that prohibits using the roadway “for play, including hockey, baseball, basketball, skateboarding, chalk artistry, bicycling or other sports and recreational activities.”

Here is the full story, via Michelle Dawson.

Thursday assorted links

1. “As the interminable lines at DMV offices grow longer and timely appointments become nearly impossible to schedule, an Oakland startup offering “expedited appointments” for $19.99 has seen its business boom.” Link here.

2. Casper is opening a nap store.

3. Are you Chinese but spiritually Finnish? #jingfen

4. What is up with charter cities and other such things?

5. A list of top economics influencers.

6. The art scene in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

7. Thomas Edsall on the growing gender gap in politics (NYT).

Which elements of the Trump legacy will persist?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit from it:

There is evidence that American attitudes toward immigrants are growing more positive. There is also evidence that simply thinking about immigrants makes Americans less likely to support them, so Democrats may decide to de-emphasize the issue. The intensity of anti-immigration sentiment has helped Republicans take control of all three branches of the federal government, and Democrats would probably prefer for the next big set of political debates to be about health-care policy and additional benefits for women. The American public actually trusts Trump more than congressional Democrats to deal with border security.

There is much more at the link, not all of it pleasant.

Augur is live

Augur is finally live.

The decentralized platform for betting on real-world predictions was one of the first applications built on top of the ethereum blockchain, and its creators  sold “reputation” (REP) tokens for over $5 million in 2015 – a time when few were talking about “ICOs” or “utility coins.” A public beta version of the platform came out the following year, and its team published a revised version of its white paper in January.

Now, the Forecast Foundation, the not-for-profit behind Augur’s development, has announced the launch of the long-awaited platform, which was accompanied by the release of the final version of the Augur application as open-source software.


Augur allows participants to bet on anything.

As long as the outcome can be verified in the real world, users can create a prediction market for anything from ether’s price, an election in Brazil or the outcome of Iceland v. Argentina in the World Cup.

What distinguishes Augur from a traditional betting market is that no single party sits in the middle, meaning that users are likely to pay lower prices.

Removing the centralized intermediary from a betting market presents a problem, however: how to bring dispersed, financially interested parties into agreement about the actual outcome of the predicted event?

In Augur’s system, the creator of a prediction market designates a “reporter” to vet the outcome. This designated entity puts down a deposit of REP tokens, which they lose if they incorrectly report the outcome and other REP holders challenge them. The reporter is compensated through fees.

Day-to-day betting is not done in REP, but in ether, the native token of the ethereum blockchain (though, eventually, the plan is to support other ethereum-based tokens). Users can buy and sell shares in particular predictions, which are priced according to the likelihood the market attaches to each outcome.

Here is the full Coindesk article, here is the white paper, here is their home page.