Category: Education

Colombian sentences to ponder

His close colleague, fellow senator Iván Cepeda, says Petro’s ideas transcend traditional left-right boundaries. “He has been inspired by many sources . . . he has a solid Marxist foundation but has also read a lot of French post-structuralism and other political traditions. He is also a serious economist . . . who has read thinkers like Naomi Klein and is in dialogue with [French economist Thomas] Piketty”.

And this:

If Petro wins in Colombia and if, as recent polls suggest, former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva pulls off what would be a momentous comeback victory in October, the seven most populous nations in Latin America — Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Peru, Venezuela and Chile — will all be under leftwing rule.

Here is more from the FT.

The Demand and Supply of Misinformation

Bryan Caplan reminds us that misinformation wouldn’t work well if people weren’t so irrational.

The [standard misinformation] story focuses exclusively on the flaws of speakers, without acknowledging the flaws of the listeners. Misinformation won’t work unless the listeners are themselves naive, dogmatic, emotional, or otherwise intellectually defective. In economic jargon, the problem is that the story mistakes an information problem for a rationality problem.

The motivation for this crucial omission is fairly obvious. Blaming listeners for their epistemic vices sounds bad. It makes the accuser sound elitist, if not arrogant. Blaming a few high-status liars for the world’s problems is a lot more compatible with Social Desirability Bias than blaming billions of low-status fools who fail to choose to exercise their common sense.

I agree but it’s an equilibrium process. The demand and supply of misinformation both matter. Moreover, it’s not implausible that social media has increased the supply of misinformation, essentially because it has greatly accelerated the evolution of memes. As Dawkins taught us, memes evolve like genes but in the past memes evolved like rabbits, more rapidly than human beings but not so rapid that we couldn’t keep up. Now memes evolve like viruses, mind viruses. Even worse we have made improving memes profitable so we have capitalist energy added to faster random mutation.

I am somewhat hopeful that social media hit us hard because it was novel. A generation raised on social media may have more natural immunity–assuming we survive the infection. I also encourage (as does Bryan) institutions like betting markets to raise the price of misinformation (a bet is a tax on bullshit). Betting markets and expert aggregation markets like Metacuulus can help. We should invest more in the support and prestige of tools for developing rational consensus. More generally, if we can’t raise the cost of misinformation, better tools to aid our limited rationality could reduce the demand.

Sentences to ponder model this

Consistent with beauty-blind admissions, alumni’s beauty is uncorrelated with the rank of the school they attended in China. In the US, White men who attended high-ranked schools are better looking, especially attendees of private schools. A one percentage point increase in beauty rank corresponds to a half-point increase in the school rank.

Here is more, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.


The crypto market is up! The crypto market is down! The roller coaster can be fearfully thrilling but as thoughtful academics and people interested in ideas let’s look away from the daily ups and downs and focus on the big picture. What is crypto? What is cryptoeconomics?

Tyler and I have written a new chapter for our textbook, Modern Principles. In Cryptoeconomics we explain just enough cryptography–namely cryptographic hash functions and public-private keys–to understand what new forms of communication and organization have been made possible by these breakthroughs. We then use these fundamentals to explain NFTs, blockchains, Bitcoin, smart contracts and decentralized finance–all in a crisp, compact format accessible to everyone.

Not everyone wants to teach crypteconomics, of course, or has the time (scarcity!) so this chapter will be available as an option to anyone using our book and the Achieve online course management system (in fact, it’s available now). Tyler and I have found, however, that our students, colleagues, even people at dinner parties ask us about crypto. Probably your students and friends will ask you as well. Plus our textbook is called Modern Principles so we thought we were obligated to teach these new ideas!

Cryptoeconomics is a good guide to some fundamentally new ways of trading, communicating, and cooperating.

Addendum: If you want to learn more about DeFi, my talk goes into greater depth.

My Conversation with the excellent Daniel Gross

This is Daniel Gross my co-author on Talent and the venture capitalist, to be clear.  And here is the audio and transcript.  Of course we focus on talent and also:

They also explore the question of why so many high achievers love Diet Coke, why you should ask candidates if they have any good conspiracy theories, how to spot effective dark horses early, the hiring strategy that set SpaceX apart, what to look for in a talent identifier, what you can learn from discussing drama, the underrated genius of game designers, why Tyler has begun to value parents more and IQ less, conscientiousness as a mixed blessing, the importance of value hierarchies, how to become more charismatic, the allure of endurance sports for highly successful people, what they disagree on most, and more.


GROSS: Well, take a step back. Why are we even here? And why would I even have a shred of an interesting opinion on talent? To the extent that I do, I think it’s because in the venture business — much more so than, I think, almost any other business — you live in constant paranoia of missing out on great talent. You might say, “Well, that’s true in every company.” And it’s true at the Met when you’re looking for someone to play in the orchestra, too. But in the venture business, unlike others, great talent always looks very weird to whatever convention is.

Before Mark Zuckerberg came along, that phenotype of the hoodie sweatshirt and slightly aspie kid was not the common phenotype. Now, of course, there was a phase — 2013, 2014, 2015 — where everyone started looking for that. But then it hit you again with a very weird-looking person, where Vitalik [Buterin] is of a completely different ilk than Zuck. One very much is Julius Caesar, and I think another one — I don’t exactly know how you’d bucket Vitalik — maybe like an early pope.

COWEN: Like a Russian holy saint.

GROSS: Exactly. By the way, not just the person is weirder than whatever the conventional norm is, but the idea is weird, too.

Interesting throughout!

What is the best interview question of all time?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, also picked by the WaPo.  Excerpts:

What are the open tabs in your browser right now?

…First, the question measures what a person does with his or her spare time as well as work time. If you leave a browser tab open, it probably has some importance to you and you expect to return to the page. It is one metric of what you are interested in and what your work flow looks like.

It’s not just cheap talk. Some job candidates might say they are interested in C++ as a programming language, but if you actually have an open page to the Reddit and Subreddits on that topic, that is a demonstrated preference…

The question also tests for enthusiasm. If the person doesn’t seem excited about any of those open browser tabs, that may be a sign that they are blasé about other things as well. But if you get a heated pitch about why a particular website is the best guide to “Lord of the Rings” lore, you may have found a true nerd with a love of detail. That will be a plus for many jobs and avocations, though not all.

There is much more at the link, and to consider some other competing questions, do see my new book with Daniel Gross Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World, publication date is today!

And do note that this particular question comes from Daniel.

Infant Formula, Price Controls, and the Misallocation of Resources

For the week of April 3, at least 12 states faced out of stock rates higher than 40 percent, including Connecticut, Delaware, Montana, New Jersey, Rhode IslandI’ve been reluctant to write about the shortage of infant formula simply because it’s so tiring to say the same thing over and over again. Obviously, this is a classic case where the FDA should allow imports of any food or baby formula approved by a stringent authority. (Here’s the US Customs and Border Patrol bragging about how they nabbed 588 cases of infant formula from Germany and the Netherlands as if it were cocaine.) Scott Lincicome has an excellent run down which covers not just the FDA but the problems caused by trade regulation and the WIC program as well.

What I want to do is focus on something less discussed: Why does the shortage vary across the country and even city by city?

I believe one reason is implicit price controls, either due to fear of regulatory backlash, regulatory constraints through other programs, or a misplaced desire not to upset consumers.

Price controls create shortages–that much is well known–but they also create a misallocation of goods. No doubt you have seen pictures from the 1970s of long lines of cars waiting to get gasoline. But there weren’t lineups everywhere at all times–rather we had the strange situation where there were shortage of gasoline in some places while, just a hundred miles away, there was plenty. Or shortages one day and surpluses the next.

Prices rationally allocate goods across space and time in response to shifts in demand and supply. If demand increases in one place, for example, prices rise, creating an incentive to bring in supplies from elsewhere. A rising price signals where supplies are needed and creates an incentive to deliver. Or, as Tyler and I put it, A price is a signal wrapped up in an incentive. A price controlled below the market price creates a shortage and it also kills the signaling and incentive function of prices. The result is allocational chaos: Shortages in some places and times and excess supply in other places and times.

In fact, price controls in a capitalist economy give you a window onto a planned economy. If you think of communism as a system of universal price controls this allocation chaos is the essence of why a communist state cannot rationally allocate resources.

Tyler and I discuss allocational chaos in our chapter on price controls in Modern Principles of Economics. See also this excellent video.

Some blurbs for *Talent*, with Daniel Gross

Talent” is what happens when two brilliant and profoundly iconoclastic minds apply their imagination to one of the hardest of all business problems: the search for good people. I loved it.”

–Malcolm Gladwell

“Talent is everything―whether in investing and building startups, or in other creative endeavors. Between product, market, and people, I’ve always bet on the last one as the biggest predictor of success. But while talent may be everywhere, it’s unevenly distributed, and hard to ‘find.’ So how do we better discover, filter, and match the best talent with the best opportunities? This book shares how, based on both scientific research and the authors’ own experiences. The future depends on this know-how.”

―Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Netscape and Andreessen Horowitz

“The most important job of any leader is to find individuals with a ‘creative spark,’ and the potential to discover, invent and build the future. If you want to learn the art and science of spotting and empowering exceptional people, Talent is brimming with fresh insights and actionable advice.”

―Eric Schmidt, co-founder of Schmidt Futures and former CEO of Google

“I do not know of any skills more worth developing than the ability to find exceptional undeveloped talent. I have spent many years trying to get good at that, and I was still astonished by how much I learned reading this book.”

Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, formerly of YCombinator

“Two of the premier talent spotters working today, Cowen and Gross have written the definitive history of identifying talent. Anyone who is interested in innovation, entrepreneurship, or the roots of America’s start-up economy must read this book.”Christina Cacioppo is CEO and co-founder of Vanta

You can order here on Amazon or here on Barnes & Noble.


“If economists are so smart, why aren’t they rich?”

Peter Coy (NYT) considers a few hypotheses.  My take here is pretty simple.  Here are three of the main ways to beat market returns:

1. Build a new product and sell it successfully.

2. Assemble and maintain an especially talented team of quants.  (It is a separate but still relevant question at what scale you can do this and thus how rich you can become.)

3. “See” something about the market, at least for a limited period of time, that other people do not and invest accordingly.  That might be falling interest rates, the rise of consumer tech, or the persistence of low inflation (all until recently!).  Note that #3 requires you to have some money in the first place, and for your run to be long enough that you truly become rich.

Putting aside generic demographic factors, there is no particular reason to expect #1 or #2 to be much correlated with expertise in economics.

You might think that #3 is somewhat correlated with expertise in economics, but I don’t think it is very much.  You can pile up a bunch of ancillary reasons why economists might not be practically oriented enough to succeed at #3.  But even putting all that aside, economic theories of “regime change” just aren’t very good!  (It is comparative statics that we excel at, but that knowledge can be replicated and sold cheaply to the rest of the investment community, if it turns out to be valuable.)  So knowing economics won’t correlate much with success at strategy #3.  And some of those non-economists who succeed at #3 are just lucky anyway.

And that is why, dear reader, most economists are not very rich.  You are correct in downgrading their intelligence for these reasons, though there are still some regards in which they are quite smart, such as having ability at hypothesis testing, or perhaps having the ability to ask very good and penetrating questions about economic issues.

The LGBTQ+ earnings gap

There is a new paper on this topic, here is the abstract:

This article provides recent estimates of earnings and mental health for sexual and gender minority young adults in the United States. Using data from a nationally representative sample of bachelor’s degree recipients, I find a significant earnings and mental health gap between self-identified LGBTQ+ and comparable heterosexual cisgender graduates. On average, sexual and gender minorities experience 22% lower earnings ten years after graduation. About half of this gap can be attributed to LGBTQ+ graduates being less likely to complete a high-paying major and work in a high-paying occupation (e.g., STEM and business). In addition, LGBTQ+ graduates are more than twice more likely to report having a mental illness. I then analyze the role of sexual orientation concealment and find a more pronounced earnings and mental health gap for closeted graduates.

That is from Marc Folch at the University of Chicago.

In defense of extremism

That is my latest Bloomberg column, the argument is super-simple:

Calling something “extremist” is not an effective critique. It’s a sign that the speaker or writer either doesn’t want to take the trouble to make a real argument, or is hoping to win the debate through rhetoric or Twitter pressure rather than logic. It’s also a bad sign when critics stress how social media have fed and encouraged “extremism.”

I favor plenty of extremist ideas. For instance, I think that the world’s major cities should adopt congestion rush-hour pricing. (I know, it hardly sounds extreme, but I assure you that many drivers consider it extremely outrageous to have to pay to drive on roads that were free a few hours before.) London and Singapore have versions of congestion pricing, with some success, but given the public reaction and that most other major cities do not seem close to enactment, it has to count as a relatively extreme idea.

I also favor human challenge trials, arguably an even more extreme idea. In human challenge trials, rather than waiting for a virus to infect those vaccinated (randomly) with the placebo, scientists recruit volunteers and infect them deliberately and immediately. This accelerates the speed of a biomedical trial. To many people there is something repugnant about asking for volunteers and then deliberately doing them harm by injecting them with the virus.

Maybe human challenge trials aren’t a good idea. But calling them extreme or repugnant does not help explain why.

We then get into some more “extreme” ideas…

Someone complaining about “extremism” is a likely predictor of an epistemic vice.

A new twins study

An overall twin correlation across thirty-eight measures was r = 0.95, p < .001. In contrast with previous research, the twins’ general intelligence and non-verbal reasoning scores showed some marked differences.

Yes that concerns identical twins raised in separate environments.  Here is the paper by Nancy L. Segal and Yoon-Mi Hur, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

How strong are the racial preferences of universities?

Using detailed admissions data made public in the SFFA v. Harvard and SFFA v. UNC cases, we examine how racial preferences for under-represented minorities (URMs) affect their admissions to Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill. At Harvard, the admit rates for typical African American applicants are on average over four times larger than if they had been treated as white. For typical Hispanic applicants the increase is 2.4 times. At UNC, preferences vary substantially by whether the applicant is in-state or out-of-state. For in-state applicants, racial preferences result in an over 70% increase in the African American admit rate. For out-of-state applicants, the increase is more than tenfold. Both universities provide larger racial preferences to URMs from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.

Here is the paper, by Peter Arcidiacono, Josh Kinsler, and Tyler Ransom, forthcoming as an NBER paper.