Category: Education

Why consume the most recent news?

Here is another left-over question from my recent talk:

How do you think about when it makes sense for to consume the most-recent news, in light of Robin Hanson’s “news isn’t about info”?  How would you advise the rest of us?

I consume the news avidly for (at least) these reasons:

1. For professional reasons, I am required to do so.  That said, I am happy to note the endogeneity of that state of affairs.  Consuming the news is fun, though in a pinch more sports, games, and the arts could serve much of the same role.

2. I actually care what is happening.

3. Consuming the news is one of the best ways of testing your views about the past.  We are always revaluing what we thought we knew, in light of new data.  Brexit teaches us that the UK was never quite so well integrated into the EU.  The election of Trump may imply that certain late 19th century strands of American politics are enduring, and the evolution of the racial income gap will induce us to reassess various policies of the last few decades.

Under this theory, reading a lot of history books should raise the return to following the news.  For most people, they haven’t read so many books and at the margin they need more books rather than more news.  In this sense, following the news doesn’t make intellectual sense for most people, though they may need it for social bonding, signaling, and conversation purposes.

I would stress the concomitant point that following the news does not make one a much better predictor of the future, if at all.  It may even cause people to overweight the most recent trends, due to availability and recency bias.

4. I also use the news to make history more interesting to me.  It is easier to get “wrapped up” in the news, if only because of the social support and the element of dramatic suspense.  If somehow the Balkans no longer existed, I would find it hard to wish to understand that “…the medieval Serbian Orthodox Church had established a new see at Pec in Kosovo in 1297…”  As it stands, my interest in that event is sufficiently intense, and it remains important for understanding the current day.

5. It is perhaps addictive that the news comes every day.  But that is a useful discipline.  If you follow the news, you will work at it every day, more or less.  Better those compound returns than to do something else once every three months and a half.

In essence, the news is a good, cheap trick for getting yourself to care more about things you should care about anyway, but maybe don’t.

Has the wage-education locus for women been worsening?

That question is the focus of some recent research by Chen Huang.

Women’s labor force participation rate has moved from 61% in 2000, to 57% today.  It seems two-thirds of this change has been due to demographics, namely the aging of the adult female population.  What about the rest?  It seems that, relative to education levels, wages for women have not been rising since 2000:

I discover that the apparent increase in women’s real wages is more than accounted for by the large increase in women’s educational attainment. Once I condition on education, U.S. women’s real wages have not increased since 2000 and may even have decreased by a few percentage points. Thus, the locus of wage/education opportunities faced by U.S. women has not improved since 2000 and may have worsened. Viewed in that light, the LFPR decrease for women under age 55 becomes less surprising.

You can consider that another indicator of the Great Stagnation.

Asian-American admissions at Harvard

Here is basic NYT coverage of the case:

University officials did concede that its 2013 internal review found that if Harvard considered only academic achievement, the Asian-American share of the class would rise to 43 percent from the actual 19 percent.

Here is the plaintiff’s brief by Peter S. Arcidiacono.  Here is David Card’s brief in defense of Harvard and Asian-American admissions.  Here is Arcidiacono’s response to Card.

Gabriel Rossman noted on Twitter: “Once you control for lacrosse, founding an NGO in high school, legacy status, alumni evaluation of personality, woke personal essays, and a 23&me test for EDAR, there’s no effect”

My take is simple.  Harvard is risk-averse with respect to the stream of future donations, as are many other schools.  Asian-American admissions don’t have the same donating track record as the white students traditionally cultivated by Harvard and other top universities.  Either Asian-Americans may seek out “diaspora philanthropy,” or they simply may have a more cynical attitude toward top institutions that they basically have never had any control over.

Furthermore, there is a common fear — repugnant to me I should add — that if a student body becomes “too Asian,” many white students will be less interested in going there.  I taught at UC Irvine for several years and found it to be a delightful experience, but this is exactly what many schools are afraid of (the UCI student body is disproportionately Asian, and the honors class I taught in my first year had only one non-Asian student in it).

And so they come up with every excuse possible — sometimes cemented in by self-deception — for maintaining a “balanced” student body.

It is incorrect to call it “racism,” but it is non-meritocratic and we should move away from those attitudes as quickly as possible.

In related news, the University of Chicago is moving away from the use of SAT scores in admissions.  The cynical might suggest this is so they are more insulated from potential lawsuits and also so they have more discretion in admissions.  If Chicago feels the need to do this, perhaps the system really is buckling under the strain of all these outside pressures.

Nonetheless, I predict ultimately the status quo will not change very much.  I just don’t see a strong enough popular or judicial constituency for righting the wrongs done to Asian-Americans.  Some kind of partial concession will be made, various terms and standards will be somewhat redefined, and we’ll be back to “rinse and repeat.”  Meritocracy: can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

I am pleased to report that none of this tomfoolery goes on at my home institution, which is highly and truly diverse.

Raj Chetty is returning to Harvard

That is the word on Twitter.  Does he want grandchildren more than he used to?  You may remember my Conversation with him, a short while after he moved to Stanford:

CHETTY: So if you’re in your mid-30s, only something like a quarter or less of girls growing up in the Bay Area are married, and we show in our paper that every extra year you spend growing up in the Bay Area, you’re less likely to get married. I remember telling my wife, “I don’t think we need to worry. Our daughter will be fine in terms of earnings. It’s just that she might not be married if we move to California.”
COWEN: So, you’ve lowered your expectations for grandchildren?
CHETTY: Yes. [laughs]

Which system should be redesigned from scratch?

Here is another question I didn’t get to answer from last night:

Your blog talks about making small marginal improvements, but if you could redesign one system entirely from scratch, which one would it be, and how would it look compared to what is currently in place?

One answer would be “blogging, I would have much more of it.”  But my main answer would be higher education, especially those tiers below the top elite universities.  Completion rates are astonishingly low, and also not very transparent (maybe about 40 percent?).  I would ensure that every single student receives a reasonable amount of one-on-one tutoring and/or mentoring in his or her first two years.  In return, along budgetary lines, I would sacrifice whatever else needs to go, in order to assure that end.  If we’re all standing around in robes, arguing philosophy under the proverbial painted porch, so be it.  At the same time, I would boost science funding at the top end.

I also would experiment with abolishing the idea of degree “completion” altogether.  Maybe you simply finish with an “assessment,” or rather you never quite finish at all, since you might return to take a class when you are 43.  Why cannot this space be more finely grained, especially in an age of information technology?

At lower ages, I would do everything possible to move away from having all of the children belong to the exact same age group.  The Boy Scouts are a better model here than “the 7th grade.”

The NBA is one institution that I feel is working really well at the moment. and I don’t just say that because I root for Golden State.  Though that doesn’t hurt any, either.

Yale Politic interview with me

I enjoyed this one, lots of real questions from Eric Wallach, not “tell us about your book” and the usual snoozefest.  Here is one bit:

So you like the idea of pardons– how do you work through that one?

I don’t even firmly believe that punishment is justified morally. Maybe it’s necessary, maybe you just can’t do without it.  But the mere fact that someone has wronged another, I don’t think causes them to forfeit their rights in the way that was claimed in classic, early modern political philosophy. Once you think wrongdoers still have their human rights, on what grounds do you punish them? Could be that you simply have to– either the public won’t accept another option and they would overthrow your non-punishment regime and bring in fascism, and something with a lot more punishment would come about.

I get that– I’m not saying you can just toss away the keys to all these jails. But insofar as you have options of not punishing people – who in the cases I’ve read about it seems they’re not going to go out there and continue their serial killing sprees – I think we just simply ought not to punish them. Martha Stewart, again, that seems to me a very clear case. Undo the wrong. If I were a president, I’d consider just only pardoning people and then resigning. I know I couldn’t get away with it forever, but it’s one way to think about the job.

There are other points of interest, new and interesting throughout.

Is the reversal of the Flynn Effect environmental?

Maybe so, says a new paper by Bernt Bratsberg and Ole Rogeberg:

Using administrative register data with information on family relationships and cognitive ability for three decades of Norwegian male birth cohorts, we show that the increase, turning point, and decline of the Flynn effect can be recovered from within-family variation in intelligence scores. This establishes that the large changes in average cohort intelligence reflect environmental factors and not changing composition of parents, which in turn rules out several prominent hypotheses for retrograde Flynn effects.

In short, IQ relates inversely to sibling order, and the basic effect is not being generated by a changing composition of married pairs over time.

In other words, we have started building a more stupidity-inducing environment.  Or at least the Norwegians have.  But of course the retrograde Flynn Effect is starting to pop up in the data more generally, and not just in Norway.  From The Times of London:

The IQ scores of young people have begun to fall after rising steadily since the Second World War, according to the first authoritative study of the phenomenon.

The decline, which is equivalent to at least seven points per generation, is thought to have started with the cohort born in 1975, who reached adulthood in the early Nineties.

Have a nice day!

For the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

We will never disapprove of current levels of animal cruelty

Not fundamentally, no.  However terrible our current treatment of animals may be, most of us don’t seem to mind very much, and I suppose that is consistent with what a Darwinian theory would predict.  Here are a few facts about the sociologically specific nature of vegetarianism:

  1. The majority of vegans are female in gender: e.g., 74% in USA [27], 66% in Germany [39] and 63% in UK [29];

  2. They tend to be liberal-leftist politically: in USA, we have a 52% of liberals versus a 14% of conservatives and a 34% of self-styled “neutral” [27];

  3. They are generally more educated than carnists (e.g., Ipsos Mori [29] for UK and Mensik et al. for Germany [39]);

  4. They are more likely to be found in urban than country areas, with prevalence in big cities (e.g., Ipsos Mori [29] for UK, Roy Morgan Research for Australia [49] and Mensik et al. for Germany [39]);

  5. They display an inclination to secular/atheist views on religion matters (e.g., Humane Research Council [27], where it is shown that about half of the American community of vegans/vegetarians is not religious—a percentage that is considerably higher than that of the general population).

Less predictable may be the fact that a rather high percentage of vegans/vegetarians revert to carnism after a certain amount of time (in US, according to Humane Research Council [27], 2% of the respondents were vegans/vegetarians, while no less than 10% were former vegans/vegetarians)…

Not by chance, of the mentioned 10%, one third dropped the lifestyle after 3 months or less, one half within a year, and therefore only less than 20% “resisted” for more than a year.

That is from a recent article by Dario Martinelli and Aušra Berkmanienė.  It seems, by the way, that Israel is the country with the highest measured percentage of vegans.  Is that because it is a way of keeping semi-kosher without quite admitting one is doing so?

Artificial meat?  Yes, yes I know.  But we already have cauliflower, and drenched in yogurt sauce and green cardamom pods and garam masala that is quite delicious, and yet it doesn’t seem to matter.  Vegetarian food in India already tastes better than most meat dishes consumed in the United States.

Hat tip goes to Rolf Degen.

More on the Education Tax

In my post, The Education Tax Reduces Inequality and the Incentive to Work, I illustrated how the high cost of college combined with income based pricing have turned education pricing into a tax with potentially significant effects on work and savings incentives. David Henderson pointed me to a paper by Martin Feldstein in 1992, College Scholarship Rules and Private Saving which states the issues very well.

This paper examines the effect of existing college scholarship rules on the incentive to save. The analysis shows that families that are eligible for college scholarships face “education tax rates” on capital income of between 22 percent and 47 percent in addition to regular slate and federal income taxes. The scholarship rules also impose an annual tax on previously accumulated assets. Through the combination of the implied tax on capital income and the associated tax on previously accumulated assets, the scholarship rules that apply to a middle-income family reduce the value of an extra dollar of accumulated assets by 30 cents in four years. A similar family with two children who attend college in succession will see an initial dollar of assets reduced to 50 cents. Such capital levies of 30 to 50 percent are a strong incentive not to save for college expenses but to rely instead on financial assistance and even on regular market borrowing, Moreover, since any funds saved for retirement are also subject to these education capital levies. the scholarship rules discourage retirement saving as well as saving for education. The empirical analysis developed here, based on the 1986 Survey of Consumer Finances, implies that these incentives do have a powerful effect on the actual accumulation of financial assets. More specifically, the estimated parameter values imply that the scholarship rules induce a typical household with a head aged 45 years old, with two precollege children, and with income of $40,000 a year to reduce accumulated financial assets by $23,124 approximately 50 percent of what would have been accumulated without the adverse effect of the scholarship rules.

Dick and Edlin made a similar point in 1997 but, as far as I can tell, there have been only a handful of papers on this issue since that time. The cost of college, however, is about twice as high today as in the 1980s and price discrimination is much more extensive so the effects are likely larger today.

My Conversation with David Brooks

David was in top form, and I feel this exchange reflected his core style very well, here is the audio and transcript.

We covered why people stay so lonely, whether the Amish are happy, life in Italy, the Whig tradition, the secularization thesis, the importance of covenants, whether Judaism or Christianity has a deeper reading of The Book of Exodus, whether Americans undervalue privacy, Bruce Springsteen vs. Bob Dylan, whether our next president will be a boring manager, and last but not least the David Brooks production function.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Walt Whitman, not only as a poet, but as a foundational thinker for America. Overrated or underrated?

BROOKS: I’d have to say slightly overrated.

COWEN: Tell us why.

BROOKS: I think his spirit and his energy sort of define America. His essay “Democratic Vistas” is one of my favorite essays. It captures both the vulgarity of America, but the energy and especially the business energy of America. But if we think the rise of narcissism is a problem in our society, Walt Whitman is sort of the holy spring there.

[laughter]

COWEN: Socrates, overrated or underrated?

BROOKS: [laughs] This is so absurd.

[laughter]

BROOKS: With everybody else it’s like Breaking Bad, overrated or underrated? I got Socrates.

[laughter]

BROOKS: I will say Socrates is overrated for this reason. We call them dialogues. But really, if you read them, they’re like Socrates making a long speech and some other schmo saying, “Oh yes. It must surely be so, Socrates.”

[laughter]

BROOKS: So it’s not really a dialogue, it’s just him speaking with somebody else affirming.

COWEN: And it’s Plato reporting Socrates. So it’s Plato’s monologue about a supposed dialogue, which may itself be a monologue.

BROOKS: Yeah. It was all probably the writers.

And on Milton Friedman:

BROOKS: I was a student at the University of Chicago, and they did an audition, and I was socialist back then. It was a TV show PBS put on, called Tyranny of the Status Quo, which was “Milton talks to the young.” So I studied up on my left-wing economics, and I went out there to Stanford. I would make my argument, and then he would destroy it in six seconds or so. And then the camera would linger on my face for 19 or 20 seconds, as I tried to think of what to say.

And it was like, he was the best arguer in human history, and I was a 22-year-old. It was my TV debut — you can go on YouTube. I have a lot of hair and big glasses. But I will say, I had never met a libertarian before. And every night — we taped for five days — every night he took me and my colleagues out to dinner in San Francisco and really taught us about economics.

Later, he stayed close to me. I called him a mentor. I didn’t become a libertarian, never quite like him, but a truly great teacher and a truly important influence on my life and so many others. He was a model of what an academic economist should be like.

Recommended.  (And I actually thought David did just fine in that early exchange with Friedman.)

The Education Tax Reduces Inequality and the Incentive to Work

At the NYTimes David Leonhardt breaks families down into six income classes from the poor to the very affluent, defined as follows:

Using a tuition calculator he then estimates tuition (including room and board) by income class at 32 colleges and universities (see below–the darker dots indicate the richer income classes). At many private colleges and universities it is not unusual for some students to be paying $70,000 per year while others pay less than $5,000, for exactly the same education. (Tyler and I provide some similar data on college price discrimination in Modern Principles.) Leonhardt’s point is that a poor student can afford an expensive education and might actually save money by going to an elite private university rather than to a state college.

Price discrimination in education has two other, less recognized, consequences. It reduces income inequality and it reduces the incentive to work. If every firm charged twice as much to someone who earned twice as much, there would no consumption inequality despite high measured income inequality. The rich don’t pay more than the poor when they buy the same basket of goods at the grocery store but they do pay much more for the same education.The Affluent pay approximately $70 thousand for education at the colleges Leonhardt examines while the Upper-Middle pay about half that. The effect on inequality is significant for families with kids in college. An Affluent person is 52% richer than an Upper-Middle income person (186/122=1.52) but an Affluent person with a kid in college is only 33% richer than an Upper-Middle income person with a kid in college (((186-70)/(122-35)=1.33). Shockingly, an Affluent person with two kids in college is actually poorer than an Upper-Middle income person with two kids in college! ((186-140)/(122-70)=0.88.

Under income-based pricing the education tax becomes an income tax with all the negative aspects of income taxes on behavior such as diminished work incentives. Let’s take a closer look at an Upper-Middle income parent earning $122 thousand per year. If this parent gets a promotion or takes on extra work that bumps their salary by $64 thousand, they move from being Upper-Middle income to Affluent. At least on paper. At an income of $122 thousand the parent will be paying approximately $35 thousand to send their child to college but at $186 thousand they will have to pay $70 thousand for the same college so the increase in salary of $64 thousand is an effective increase of only $29 thousand. If the Upper-Middle income parent has two children in college, earning more money actually results in a net loss. For an Upper-Middle income family with two kids spaced in age a few years apart the education tax could be a very severe work disincentive for up to a decade.

The education tax is a peculiar tax as it is often paid to private organizations rather than to the government but it is still a tax and for those of Upper-Middle income the education tax is a very significant tax.

The consequences of the education tax on inequality and work incentives are neither well studied nor well understood.

Is surfing the internet dead?

I saw a few people asking this on Twitter lately, but my views don’t quite fit into a tweet.  Ten to fifteen years ago, I remember the joys of just finding things, clicking links through to other links, and in general meandering through a thick, messy, exhilarating garden.

Today you can’t do that as much.  Many media sites are gated, a lot of the personal content is in the walled garden of Facebook, and blogs and personal home pages are not as significant as before.  Then there is the email subscription newsletter, whether free or paid.  All you can do in fact is visit www.marginalrevolution.com and a few other sites and hope their proprietors have not been sleeping since you last stopped by.

That said, I do not feel that time on the internet has become an inferior experience.  It’s just that these days you find most things by Twitter.  You don’t have to surf, because this aggregator performs a surfing-like function for you.  Scroll rather than surf, you could say (“scrolling alone,” said somebody on Twitter).

And if you hate Twitter, it is your fault for following the wrong people (try hating yourself instead!).  Follow experts and people of substance, not people who seek to lower the status of others.  And if you’re really feeling the internet to be rather empty, head on over to Twitter search, still the most underrated single thing on the internet today (the MR search function is another underrated corner of the internet).  Type in words of interest, such as “Ethiopia,” and what comes up will be gold.

It’s a different method today, and it uses a more centralized portal, but no the internet is not in decline.  Not yet at least.

Michael Nielsen, standing on one foot

A highly sophisticated MR reader demanded a dose of Michael Nielsen.  I wrote to Michael, and he was kind enough to oblige.  Everything that follows is from Michael, here goes:

I started with the question “What might amuse Tyler?”, and it became very easy.

Three opinions that may amuse MR readers:

1. Peter Thiel has said: “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 (280) characters.” Thiel is wrong: 280 characters are much, much better than flying cars. Twitter is misunderstood as being an online service; it’s merely the online component of a much improved offline experience. Twitter DM’s are a superpower, one of the most valuable ways of connecting people ever invented. More on one way of using Twitter here.

2. Movies are primarily a visual form; movie criticism and the popular conversation about movies are primarily a literary form, and informed by literary sensibilities. This is why good movies such as Transformers are so underrated. People who dismiss such movies are mostly revealing their own ignorance.

3. Many corners of the internet have a culture of judgement or argument. Typical subtexts in online conversation are: is this good or bad? What’s wrong with it? But until and unless healthy conversational norms are formed, argument and judgement are mostly useless status-seeking by participants. Much better is a “Yes, and” culture.

Three books or papers which should be better known:

1. Elinor Ostrom’s book Governing the Commons.  Ostrom dismantles the market / government dichotomy, sketching out ways common pool resources (and, to some extent, public goods) can be provided using non-market, non-government solutions.

2. Alex Tabarrok’s paper introducing dominant assurance contracts. Cryptocurrencies have huge potential as a way of creating entirely new types of market, using ideas like this. This potential is mostly unrealized to date.

3. Bret Victor on Media for Thinking the Unthinkable.

Blog posts don’t really get going until about 5,000 words in. Here are three favourites of mine:

1. Thought as a Technology, on how imaginative designers invent fundamentally new modes of thought.

2. If correlation doesn’t imply causation, then what does?

3. Using Artificial Intelligence to Augment Human Intelligence (with Shan Carter).

Despite the fact I’m well short of 5,000 words, I’ll stop here.

You can follow Michael on Twitter here.

Has there been progress in philosophy?

You know this old debate: why are we still reading Plato?  Haven’t they figured out free will yet?  Will they ever?  Don’t the philosophers obsess too much over very old texts?

My opinion is that there is significant and ongoing progress in philosophy, we just don’t always name it as such.  Here is a list of just a few breakthroughs in our philosophic understanding of the world, noting that part of our philosophic maturation is not to care so much anymore as to whether it is called philosophy:

1. Behavioral economics and much of cognitive psychology.

2. A much improved understanding of entropy, information, and information theory.

3. A much better understanding of human neurodiversity and its import..

4. The accumulated wisdom concerning cultural differences and similarities, as taken from anthropological investigations.  You will note that like many recent advances in philosophy, this cannot be found in any one single place.

5. Progress on cosmology and “the theory of everything” and even if you are cynical about the current state of affairs it is far better than say 1850.

6. A deeper understanding of the power and also limits of mathematics.

7. Having digested and then also spit out much of Freudian analysis, but we did learn something along the way.

8. The more philosophical sides of neuroscience, some of which of course are discussed by professional philosophers too.

9. A better understanding of man’s relation to the (non-human) animals.

10. Many ways of thinking about the environment — not all of them correct — have flowered only in relatively recent times.

11. Economics, and what we have learned from economic imperialism, including its failures.

12. Singapore, and in fact most other places/polities in the world.

13. Most literary works are understood much better today than they were in earlier eras.

14. Musical languages are far better developed and better understood.

15. Development of an “internet way of thinking.”

16. Much greater incorporation of the insights of women into philosophy, and many other formerly underrepresented groups too.

So our philosophic understanding of the world is far, far deeper than it was in the time of the so-called classic philosophers, whoever you might take those to be.  If “philosophy” has advanced by collaborating with other disciplines and the sciences, so much the better, and most of the “great philosophers” themselves would have approved of this.  And of course that list of sixteen items could be much, much longer.