Category: Education

My job as managing editor of the Austrian Economics Newsletter

I’ve already posted about my chess teaching, and my grocery store work (here and here), my next job was as managing editor of the Austrian Economics Newsletter, for 1980-1981.  I was only eighteen (and nineteen) then, so for me this was a big step up.

I was responsible for commissioning content, making sure authors got their pieces in on time, editing those pieces (along with the editor proper, Don Lavoie), proofreading, picking up all the copy and delivering it to the typesetter, and coming up with ideas for future features.  I wrote a few short pieces too, conference coverage if I recall.  Part of my job was managing Don as well, though overall he was extremely generous with his time and also easy to work with.  Note that all of this work was de facto pre-computer.

From this job I learned a few things:

1. Most of all, I was grateful to Don for taking a huge chance on me.  A while earlier, I had driven to a party at his house in Brooklyn and spent a few hours with him.  One core lesson here is show up!  If I had not gone to Don’s party, almost certainly none of this would have happened.  At the time, the drive from New Jersey to Brooklyn seemed a little daunting to me, but my Auseinandersetzung with the BQE went fine.

2. I began to suspect all the more that “keeping track of things getting done” requires an innate predisposition, though a bad upbringing can squeeze it out of you.  But a lot of people just can’t or won’t do that, even if they are very smart.

3. The most fragile element of the supply chain was keeping the typesetter in line to deliver material promptly.  We were just never going to be a major customer of his and thus we were not a priority.  I just had to keep on bugging him, and I was afraid he would find out I was only an eighteen-year-old.

4. Parents matter!  My father and mother owned and ran a magazine (Commerce, affiliated with a chamber of commerce in NJ but they owned and ran it), and there I was at age eighteen, helping to run a mini-magazine.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.  And my mother dealt with typesetters all the time.  My grandmother helped with the editing and the proofreading.

Here I am at an older age, still co-running a magazine of sorts, namely MR.  (Some of you help with the proofreading — thanks!)  You could say it is affiliated with a number of groups, starting with GMU, but it is owned and run by…you get the picture.

5. The issues of the Austrian Economics Newsletter all came out in an orderly fashion, so I considered my work there a success.  Don and I also pushed each other in broader and more empirical directions, away from the earlier Austrian praxeological approaches.  The Newsletter helped make Austrian economics a broader tradition.

6. Managing your boss is a big part of most jobs.  Again, Don I found easy to work with, and I learned a great deal from him, but he did need a co-worker who could appreciate his ideas and listen to his “speeches.”  I feel I served that function well.  I did see that Don was onto ideas that represented real advances in Austrian economics, and to this day Don is underrated.  He was the best and most influential Austrian economist of his generation, but is not universally regarded as such (he passed away prematurely of cancer at the age of 50).

7. As a young person, you can advance much more quickly if you are doing something outside of the mainstream.  That is yet another reason to be on the lookout for “weird” talent.

8. One of the more important things I learned was “what it means to know everyone/everything going on in a particular field.”

9. I don’t recall exactly how the job ended.  But I think that version of the newsletter was discontinued, and Don stopped doing it, more or less at the same time.  (Later it was taken over by the Mises Institute and became a very different product; the Mercatus publication Market Process was the true successor.)  I was very glad to have done it, but after two years or so I was ready to move on to the next thing.

Higher education sentences to ponder

We find that the WTP [willingness to pay] for in-person instruction (relative to a remote format) represents around 4.2% of the average annual net cost of attending university, while the WTP for on-campus social activities is 8.1% of the average annual net costs. We also find large heterogeneity in WTP, which varies systematically across socioeconomic groups. Our analysis shows that economically-disadvantaged students derive substantially lower value from university social life, but this is primarily due to time and resource constraints.

That is from a new NBER working paper by Aucejo, French, and Zafar.

My Conversation with Patricia Fara

The last chat was with Brian Armstrong about bitcoin, this one started with Isaac Newton and bit coins (really).  Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is the CWTeam summary:

Patricia Fara is a historian of science at Cambridge University and well-known for her writings on women in science. Her forthcoming book, Life After Gravity: Isaac Newton’s London Career, details the life of the titan of the so-called Scientific Revolution after his famous (though perhaps mythological) discovery under the apple tree. Her work emphasizes science as a long, continuous process composed of incremental contributions–in which women throughout history have taken a crucial part–rather than the sole province of a few monolithic innovators.

Patricia joined Tyler to discuss why Newton left Cambridge to run The Royal Mint, why he was so productive during the Great Plague, why the “Scientific Revolution” should instead be understand as a gradual process, what the Antikythera device tells us about science in the ancient world, the influence of Erasmus Darwin on his grandson, why more people should know Dorothy Hodgkin, how George Eliot inspired her to commit unhistoric acts, why she opposes any kind of sex-segregated schooling, her early experience in a startup, what modern students of science can learn from studying Renaissance art, the reasons she considers Madame Lavoisier to be the greatest female science illustrator, the unusual work habit brought to her attention by house guests, the book of caricatures she’d like to write next, and more

And here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Let’s start with Isaac Newton. How was it that he died rich?

FARA: He earned his money from several different ways. When he went down to London, he had far more than he ever did as a Cambridge professor because he was running the London Mint. He got a fat salary for that. He also got a premium, a reward for every single gold coin that was minted.

He invested in global trading companies like the East India Company, for example, that were sending guns and textiles out to Africa and then shipping enslaved peoples over to the Americas.

He also invested in other stock market companies. There was this famous occasion — it’s the anniversary this year of what’s called the South Sea Bubble — when he invested a small fortune in a new company, the South Sea Company, and he watched the levels rise, and he stayed in there, and he sold when the stocks had gone up. He made a small fortune, but then he made the classic beginner’s error. He invested in again at a higher price, and he watched the value crash.

So he did lose several million in today’s currency on that particular venture. But in general, when he died, he was an extremely rich man, and you can tell that — the inventory of his possessions runs to a vellum scroll that’s 17 feet long.

COWEN: What was it that he collected so obsessively to have all these possessions?

FARA: Well, a lot of it was equipment for catering. He’s got this reputation for being very antisocial, but he had hundreds of plates and sets of cutlery and things like that. He also had that ultimate Georgian luxury: he owned two silver chamber pots.

He spent money on having a good number of portraits of himself painted that he would send out to other people as bribes or as rewards for their allegiance to him. He had furniture. He had decorations. He had a carriage. He had a sedan chair tucked in the stables. He had lots of servants.

On Newton’s time at The Royal Mint

COWEN: Now, as you know, Newton spends what, over 30 years working at the Mint?

FARA: Yes.

COWEN: What’s your model of why he did this? How much was it for income? Did he think he was done with major contributions, say, to physics and optics? How do you think about that decision in his life?

FARA: I think he was very frustrated with being at Cambridge. He applied for several positions there, which he didn’t get. In theological terms, he was rather at odds with everybody else at Cambridge because he was a very, very devout believer in God, but he didn’t adhere to the traditional, to the orthodox Anglican theological belief in the Trinity, so that was difficult for him.

He’d been trying to leave Cambridge for some time, and he had a very close friend, Charles Montagu, the Earl of Halifax, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer, very influential man. He managed to find Newton this very prestigious job at the Mint that paid a good salary. The minute Newton heard about it, he downed tools at Cambridge, rushed down to London, and he moved and started a new life within a few months.

…COWEN: What do you think about Newton’s basic idea on silver recoinage — bring in all the silver coins, melt them down, reissue at a lower value? Was he right about that or not? Or do you side with John Locke?

Recommended, interesting throughout.

Duke is a Trademark Bully!

Duke University has gone to incredibly and absurd lengths to contest other people’s trademark applications. For example, Duke opposed the following marks by filing with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board :

  • “The Dude Diet” for a diet-related website
  • “Kuke” for electronic products
  • “Goluke” for clothing
  • “Le Duc” for food and drink services

they have even tried to claim they own “devil” and filed oppositions against:

  • “Werdo” with this scribbled image of a devil for shirts and hats
  • “Devils Nightmare” for beer
  • “Devil’s Garden” for alcoholic beverages
  • “Pretty Devil” for slot machines

It gets worse, Duke claims the letter D and the word blue with filed oppositions against:

  • “Beach’d” for beach bags and cosmetic bags
  • “D’Grill” for barbecue smokers and grills
  • “DLove” for advertising and other services
  • “True Blue” for auto parts
  • “Stay Blue” for denim clothing
  • “Blue Ball Chiller” for alcoholic beverages
  • “Blue Solutions” for various goods and services related to car rentals and car sharing.

None of this is remotely consistent with trademark law which doesn’t convey an ownership right but is merely meant to help consumers purchase the products they intend to purchase. Yet, many of Duke’s oppositions have been successful since it’s often easier for the group asking for a trademark to simply give up and change their mark. Duke bullies far more than do other similar universities.

All of this is from an excellent paper, Mark of the Devil: The University as Brand Bully by James Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins both of whom are professors at the Duke University of Law! Bully for them!

My history of manual labor

Here is another request:

What is the hardest manual labor you’ve ever done? I love intellectual policy wonk commentary, but I can’t help but feel some small amount of disdain for people who SEEM (a possibly faulty assumption) to have never really suffered trying to solve problems in the physical realm. There’s so much abstract data/policy up for debate, but how many talking heads have even replaced a toilet or turned a wrench in their lives?

From ages 16 through 18 I worked in the produce department of a supermarket, and that involved a fair amount of lifting of heavy boxes and additional physical labor, though nothing as hard as digging ditches or as unpleasant as cleaning toilets.  My first job was at Hillsdale Valley Fair, where at the same time James Gandolfini (Sopranos star) was a shopping cart fetch boy.  My second job was at Hillsdale Stop & Shop, again in the produce department.

These were fundamental experiences for my core outlook, for these reasons and more:

1. I learned that earning money is very good for people’s psyches.  No amount of money, neither large nor small, ever should be taken for granted because somewhere along the way someone earned it.  At the time I felt very rich.

2. The people slated to fail in life might be just as intelligent as those set to succeed.  And often they are funnier and more fun to hang around with and sometimes in these kinds of jobs more productive as well.  Yet somehow they do not have the conceptual frameworks that might put them on the road to success, nor could they acquire such frameworks easily.

3. It is not that easy to find a good produce department manager.  Really quite a few skills are required, not the least of which is the ability to handle and motivate the junior staff.  The most difficult quality to find in the produce managers, however, was the discipline to avoid saying “**** you” to the store bosses, who were always busting their chops.

4. They all thought I was weird.  It was periodically remarked that I didn’t smile very much.  Yet most of the time I was having a blast.  I was producing stuff.

4b. I learned that being called “****head” a few times a week is not such a terrible thing.  Sometimes it made me smile.

4c. I had to wear a tie or they would send me home.  That seemed just to me.

5. I continued working several nights a week for the first half of my freshman year at Rutgers Newark.  After I got back from the long drive to classes (I lived at home still), accompanied by Bruce Springsteen music, I would either wrap lettuce or go read Nassau Senior and Malthus.

6. Back then they did not hire women to work in the backrooms of the produce department, so it was quite a “guys club” in terms of rhetoric and ethos.  I remained polite.

7. It was stupid that they ever wrapped bananas in clear wrap in the first place, and I was relieved when they stopped the practice.  Plums were by far the most fun fruit to wrap into packages.

Political economy matters

Schools in Oregon, Washington, and much of the west coast are slow to reopen, even with teachers getting vaccinated:

Marguerite Roza, a Georgetown University school finance expert based in Seattle, points out that Washington, Oregon and California “all have more left-leaning leadership that is cozier with the unions.” But Boston, Chicago and New York also have strong public employee unions.

Those Eastern cities also have mayoral control of the school systems. Elected school boards govern the districts on the West Coast, and in most, teachers’ unions are strong political players, particularly in major cities such as Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

I guess you could say that the mayors have more “inclusive” constituencies?  Here is the full NYT article, depressing throughout.

The regulatory state and the passage of time

The mere passage of time as an explanatory factor is underrated in public choice and regulatory economics, though Mancur Olson understood it well.  Here is an update on the new CDC guidelines for school reopening:

For months, President Biden has been urging schools to reopen, and promised that guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would help them do so safely.

At the same time, public health experts including some at the CDC said available evidence suggested schools could safely open as long as precautions were in place. That raised expectations that the nation’s K-12 education system might accelerate its return to in-person learning.

But the much-anticipated guidelines released Friday were, in fact, more measured than some expected, with full in-person schooling recommended only when levels of community transmission are quite low, a standard that almost no place in the U.S. meets today.

Here is the full article.  The American Federation of Teachers is happy, but six feet between all students for virtually all districts is a non-starter.  No matter what you think of the substance of the school reopening issue, it takes only a modicum of sense to realize if you tell people that six feet of distance is needed, in essence you are saying that a safe reopening is impossible altogether.  Here is the rant of a “progressive” parent.

You will notice that these regulatory factors are another reason why the speed premium during a pandemic is so high — if you wait too long to fix the core problem, the regulators, slow though they may be, will encumber just about everything.

Diversity and Inclusion in Economics

We congratulate the Department of Economics at the University of Missouri-Columbia for winning the AEA’s inaugural Award for Outstanding Achievement in Diversity and Inclusion.

Eric Parson’s, one of the leaders of the initiative, credits our textbook, Modern Principles of Economics, with providing the springboard for fruitful discussions and explorations of these ideas. He writes:

[The Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy chapter] really illustrates the authors’ willingness to address these important issues and make them part of the economic conversation. It is also a chapter that I think is unique among Principles textbooks (at least the ones that I have examined, which covers quite a few). This chapter directly exposes students to questions of exploitation and fair and equal treatment and also introduces them to the work of John Rawls, as well as other social justice paradigms. It also includes a discussion of whose views generally count the most in the policy process (in the context of immigration) and, with some additional questioning along these lines, allows students the opportunity to explore their own (sometimes contradictory) viewpoints on this question. Hence, overall the chapter provides a great springboard for thinking about these issues and how these ideas compare and contrast with the typical economic viewpoint.

I always tell the students that this chapter is more about getting them to think critically about the topics and begin asking questions than it is about providing answers. It also gives another nice opportunity to highlight the positive versus normative distinction that we take so seriously in economics and hopefully provides students with some of the tools they will need to discuss these issues intelligently and civilly with one another while considering other viewpoints and worldviews. In fact, I think this chapter is so important that I save it until the end of the term, as it provides an excellent bookend to our semester’s worth of economic study.

Arnold Kling’s Fantasy Intellectual Teams Draft

Here is his explanation, earlier post here, the point is to pick the undervalued people, not to pick your favorites or “the best” per se.  In essence you are assembling a “team” of public intellectuals to…I am not sure what.  But it might be fun!  Here is my advice for picks:

1. Pick people who have had more than one significant job.

1b. Pick people who have had to manage something, broadly defined.

2. Pick religious thinkers.

3. Pick people who keep on getting better.  Because indeed they will continue to keep on getting better.  That one might sound trivial, but I suspect not so many people follow it.

4. Pick people who do not use the words “Democrat” and “Republican” too often.

5. Pick people who are curious about China.

6. Pick people who experiment with different media and outlets.

7. Pick people who have an interest in seeing through very long-term projects.

8. Don’t pick too many complainers and whiners.

Good luck!

Gender and the dynamics of economics seminars

This paper reports the results of the first systematic attempt at quantitatively measuring the seminar culture within economics and testing whether it is gender neutral. We collected data on every interaction between presenters and their audience in hundreds of research seminars and job market talks across most leading economics departments, as well as during summer conferences. We find that women presenters are treated differently than their male counterparts. Women are asked more questions during a seminar and the questions asked of women presenters are more likely to be patronizing or hostile. These effects are not due to women presenting in different fields, different seminar series, or different topics, as our analysis controls for the institution, seminar series, and JEL codes associated with each presentation. Moreover, it appears that there are important differences by field and that these differences are not uniformly mitigated by more rigid seminar formats. Our findings add to an emerging literature documenting ways in which women economists are treated differently than men, and suggest yet another potential explanation for their under-representation at senior levels within the economics profession.

That is from a new paper by Pascaline Dupas, Alicia Sasser Modestino, Muriel Niederle, Justin Wolfers,
and the Seminar Dynamics Collective.  Via Kris Gulati.

Why Does Teacher Quality Matter?

From Mike Insler, Alexander F. McQuoid, Ahmed Rahman, and Katherine A. Smith, here is an apparently major result:

This work disentangles aspects of teacher quality that impact student learning and performance. We exploit detailed data from post-secondary education that links students from randomly assigned instructors in introductory-level courses to the students’ performances in follow-on courses for a wide variety of subjects. For a range of first-semester courses, we have both an objective score (based on common exams graded by committee) and a subjective grade provided by the instructor. We find that instructors who help boost the common final exam scores of their students also boost their performance in the follow-on course. Instructors who tend to give out easier subjective grades however dramatically hurt subsequent student performance. Exploring a variety of mechanisms, we suggest that instructors harm students not by “teaching to the test,” but rather by producing misleading signals regarding the difficulty of the subject and the “soft skills” needed for college success. This effect is stronger in non-STEM fields, among female students, and among extroverted students. Faculty that are well-liked by students—and thus likely prized by university administrators—and considered to be easy have particularly pernicious effects on subsequent student performance.

Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Conversations With The Browser

Browser Sunday Zoom Conversations are an opportunity for relaxed discussion with special guests.

Browser subscribers and friends are warmly invited to join, listen, and if they wish, intervene with comments and questions. Conversations begin at 1pm ET (which is 10am PT and 6pm GMT) and last for 50 minutes.

Our next Conversation, on Sunday 31st January, promises to be an exceptional event centering on Covid and its consequences.

Alex Tabarrok, Professor of Economics at George Mason University and co-founder of the Marginal Revolution blog, will be talking with Bill Emmott, former editor-in-chief of The Economist and now co-director of the Global Commission On Post-Pandemic Policy.

Alex is a leading voice in America’s national debate about policy responses to Covid. Bill is bringing together experts in diverse fields to look globally at the changes Covid is forcing upon our economies and societies.

If you are a Browser subscriber and would like to join this Conversation, please reserve simply by entering your email address here.

If you are not yet a Browser subscriber but you would like to join this Conversation, email [email protected] and tell them you are an MR reader.

Betting and Bonding with the Kids

Jeff Kaufman has some good parenting tips:

A few weeks ago Anna (4y) wanted to play with some packing material. It looked very messy to me, I didn’t expect she would clean it up, and I didn’t want to fight with her about cleaning it up. I considered saying no, but after thinking about how things like this are handled in the real world I had an idea. If you want to do a hazardous activity, and we think you might go bankrupt and not clean up, we make you post a bond. This money is held in escrow to fund the cleanup if you disappear. I explained how this worked, and she went and got a dollar:

When she was done playing, she cleaned it up without complaint and got her dollar back. If she hadn’t cleaned it up, I would have, and kept the dollar.

Some situations are more complicated, and call for bets. I wanted to go to a park, but Lily (6y) didn’t want to go to that park because the last time we had been there there’d been lots of bees. I remembered that had been a summer with unusually many bees, and it no longer being that summer or, in fact, summer at all, I was not worried. Since I was so confident, I offered my $1 to her $0.10 that we would not run into bees at the park. This seemed fair to her, and when there were no bees she was happy to pay up.

Over time, they’ve learned that my being willing to bet, especially at large odds, is pretty informative, and often all I need to do is offer. Lily was having a rough morning, crying by herself about a project not working out. I suggested some things that might be fun to do together, and she rejected them angrily. I told her that often when people are feeling that way, going outside can help a lot, and when she didn’t seem to believe me I offered to bet. Once she heard the 10:1 odds I was offering her I think she just started expecting that I was right, and she decided we should go ride bikes. (She didn’t actually cheer up when we got outside: she cheered up as soon as she made this decision.)

I do think there is some risk with this approach that the child will have a bad time just to get the money, or say they are having a bad time and they are actually not, but this isn’t something we’ve run into. Another risk, if we were to wager large amounts, would be that the child would end up less happy than if I hadn’t interacted with them at all. I handle this by making sure not to offer a bet I think they would regret losing, and while this is not a courtesy I expect people to make later in life, I think it’s appropriate at their ages.

I also recommend the board game Wits and Wagers. In the game you make bets based on questions like “In what year was the computer game Pong released? or “How many ridges are on the outside of a dime.” It’s a clever and fun game because it teaches you not only to estimate and bet accordingly but also to adjust your bets based on seeing how other people bet. Thus, it often happens that a player will less background knowledge can win, precisely because they are less confident and so pay more attention to the information available in other people’s bets. Aumann would approve.

Hat tip: Julia Galef.

What should I ask Dana Gioia?

Dana is what I call one of the world’s information billionaires.  For more specifics, here is part of his Wikipedia page:

Michael Dana Gioia (/ˈɔɪ.ə/; born December 24, 1950) is an American poet and writer. He spent the first fifteen years of his career writing at night while working for General Foods Corporation. After his 1991 essay “Can Poetry Matter?” in The Atlantic generated international attention, Gioia quit business to pursue writing full-time. He served as the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) between 2003 and 2009. Gioia has published five books of poetry and three volumes of literary criticism as well as opera libretti, song cycles, translations, and over two dozen literary anthologies.

Gioia is the Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern California, where he teaches, as well as a Senior Fellow at the Trinity Forum. In December 2015 he became the California State Poet Laureate.

He is also well-known as a composer of opera libretti, and more recently as a spokesperson for the importance of Catholicism for culture.  And he is brother of TedGioia, former CWT guest.  And here is Dana’s home page.

I will be doing a Conversation with him — so what should I ask?