Category: Education

How to motivate the unmotivated

“Realizing this, we decided to turn the standard solution to self-control on its head: What if instead of seeking advice, we asked struggling people to give it,” write Eskreis-Winkler and Fishbach. To answer this question, they conducted a series of experiments that appointed people struggling with self-control to advise others on the very problems they themselves were encountering. The population samples they studied included unemployed adults struggling to find a job, adults struggling to save money, adults struggling with anger management, and children falling behind in school.

“Although giving advice confers no new information to the advice giver, we thought it would increase the advice giver’s confidence,” they write. “Confidence in one’s ability can galvanize motivation and achievement even more than actual ability.”

Here is more from Leah Fessler, via the excellent Samir Varma.  While these results should not be considered as confirmed, I personally believe in them enough that I often act on them.

My Fall Industrial Organization reading list

This is only part one for the class, do not panic over whatever you think might be completely left out. That said, suggested additions are welcome, here goes:

Competition

Bresnahan, Timothy F. “Competition and Collusion in the American Automobile Industry: the 1955 Price War,” Journal of Industrial Economics, 1987, 35(4), 457-82.

Bresnahan, Timothy and Reiss, Peter C. “Entry and Competition in Concentrated Markets,” Journal of Political Economy, (1991), 99(5), 977-1009.

Asker, John, “A Study of the Internal Organization of a Bidding Cartel,” American Economic Review, (June 2010), 724-762.

Whinston, Michael D., “Antitrust Policy Toward Horizontal Mergers,” Handbook of Industrial Organization, vol.III, chapter 36, see also chapter 35 by John Sutton.

“Benefits of Competition and Indicators of Market Power,” Council of Economic Advisors, April 2016.

Jan De Loecker and Jan Eeckhout, “The Rise of Market Power and its Macroeconomic Implications,” http://www.janeeckhout.com/wp-content/uploads/RMP.pdf.  My comment on it is here: https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2017/08/rise-market-power.html

Me on intangible capital, https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2017/09/intangible-investment-monopoly-profits.html.

Traina, James. “Is Aggregate Market Power Increasing?: Production Trends Using Financial Statements,” https://research.chicagobooth.edu/-/media/research/stigler/pdfs/workingpapers/17isaggregatemarketpowerincreasing.pdf

Shapiro, Carl. “Antitrust in a Time of Populism.” UC Berkeley, working draft from 24 October 2017, forthcoming in International Journal of Industrial Organization.

Klein, Benjamin and Leffler, Keith. “The Role of Market Forces in Assuring Contractual Performance.”  Journal of Political Economy 89 (1981): 615-641.

Breit, William. “Resale Price Maintenance: What do Economists Know and When Did They Know It?” Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics (1991).

Bogdan Genchev, and Julie Holland Mortimer. “Empirical Evidence on Conditional Pricing Practices.” NBER working paper 22313, June 2016.

Sproul, Michael.  “Antitrust and Prices.”  Journal of Political Economy (August 1993): 741-754.

McCutcheon, Barbara. “Do Meetings in Smoke-Filled Rooms Facilitate Collusion?”  Journal of Political Economy (April 1997): 336-350.

Crandall, Robert and Winston, Clifford, “Does Antitrust Improve Consumer Welfare?: Assessing the Evidence,”  Journal of Economic Perspectives (Fall 2003), 3-26, available at http://www.brookings.org/views/articles/2003crandallwinston.htm.

FTC, Bureau of Competition, website, http://www.ftc.gov/bc/index.shtml., an optional browse, perhaps read about some current cases and also read the merger guidelines.

Parente, Stephen L. and Prescott, Edward. “Monopoly Rights: A Barrier to Riches.”  American Economic Review 89, 5 (December 1999): 1216-1233.

Demsetz, Harold.  “Why Regulate Utilities?”  Journal of Law and Economics (April 1968): 347-359.

Armstrong, Mark and Sappington, David, “Recent Developments in the Theory of Regulation,” Handbook of Industrial Organization, chapter 27, also on-line.

Shleifer, Andrei. “State vs. Private Ownership.” Journal of Economic Perspectives (Fall 1998): 133-151.

Xavier Gabaix and David Laibson, “Shrouded Attributes, Consumer Myopia, and Information Suppression in Competitive Markets, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=728545. 

Strictly optional most of you shouldn’t read this: Ariel Pakes and dynamic computational approaches to modeling oligopoly: http://www.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/pakes/files/Pakes-Fershtman-8-2010.pdf

http://www.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/pakes/files/handbookIO9.pdf

 

Economics of Tech 

Farrell, Joseph and Klemperer, Paul, “Coordination and Lock-In: Competition with Switching Costs and Network Effects,” Handbook of Industrial Organization, vol.III, chapter 31, also on-line.

Weyl, E. Glenn. “A Price Theory of Multi-Sided Platforms.” American Economic Review, September 2010, 100, 4, 1642-1672.

Tech companies as platforms, Tyler Cowen chapter, to be distributed.

Gompers, Paul and Lerner, Josh. “The Venture Capital Revolution.” Journal of Economic Perspectives (Spring 2001): 145-168.

Paul Graham, essays, http://www.paulgraham.com/articles.html, and on Google itself, http://www.slate.com/blogs/blogs/thewrongstuff/archive/2010/08/03/error-message-google-research-director-peter-norvig-on-being-wrong.aspx

Acemoglu, Daron and Autor, David, “Skills, Tasks, and Technologies: Implications for Employment and Earnings,” http://econ-www.mit.edu/files/5607

Robert J. Gordon and Ian Dew-Becker, “Unresolved Issues in the Rise of American Inequality,”http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~idew/papers/BPEA_final_ineq.pdf

Song, Jae, David J. Price, Fatih Guvenen, and Nicholas Bloom. “Firming Up Inequality,” CEP discussion Paper no. 1354, May 2015.

Andrews, Dan, Chiara Criscuolo and Peter N. Gal. “Frontier firms, Technology Diffusion and Public Policy: Micro Evidence from OECD Countries.”  OECD working paper, 2015.

Mueller, Holger M., Paige Ouimet, and Elena Simintzi. “Wage Inequality and Firm Growth.” Centre for Economic Policy Research, working paper 2015.

Readings on blockchain governance, to be distributed.

Haltiwanger, John, Ian Hathaway, and Javier Miranda. “Declining Business Dynamism in the U.S. High-Technology Sector.” Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, February 2014.

 

Organization and capital structure

Ronald Coase and Oliver Williamson on the firm, if you haven’t already read them, but limited doses should suffice.

Gibbons, Robert, “Four Formal(izable) Theories of the Firm,” on-line at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=596864.

Van den Steen, Eric, “Interpersonal Authority in a Theory of the Firm,” American Economic Review, 2010, 100:1, 466-490. 

Lazear, Edward P. “Leadership: A Personnel Economics Approach,” NBER Working Paper 15918, 2010.

Oyer, Paul and Schaefer, Scott, “Personnel Economics: Hiring and Incentives,” NBER Working Paper 15977, 2010.

Tyler Cowen chapter on CEO pay, to be distributed.

Cowen, Tyler, Google lecture on prizes, on YouTube.

Ben-David, Itzhak, and John R. Graham and Campbell R. Harvey, “Managerial Miscalibration,” NBER working paper 16215, July 2010.

Glenn Ellison, “Bounded rationality in Industrial Organization,” http://cemmap.ifs.org.uk/papers/vol2_chap5.pdf 

Miller, Merton, and commentators.  “The Modigliani-Miller Propositions After Thirty Years,” and comments, Journal of Economic Perspectives (Fall 1988): 99-158.

Myers, Stewart. “Capital Structure.” Journal of Economic Perspectives (Spring 2001): 81-102.

Hansemann, Henry.  “The Role of Non-Profit Enterprise.” Yale Law Journal (1980): 835-901.

Kotchen, Matthew J. and Moon, Jon Jungbien, “Corporate Social Responsibility for Irresponsibility,” NBER working paper 17254, July 2011.

Strictly optional but recommended for the serious: Ponder reading some books on competitive strategy, for MBA students.  Here is one list of recommendations: http://www.linkedin.com/answers/product-management/positioning/PRM_PST/20259-135826

 

Production

American Economic Review Symposium, May 2010, starts with “Why do Firms in Developing Countries Have Low Productivity?” runs pp.620-633. 

Dani Rodrik, “A Surprising Convergence Result,” http://rodrik.typepad.com/dani_rodriks_weblog/2011/06/a-surprising-convergence-result.html, and his paper here http://www.hks.harvard.edu/fs/drodrik/Research%20papers/The%20Future%20of%20Economic%20Convergence%20rev2.pdf

 Serguey Braguinsky, Lee G. Branstetter, and Andre Regateiro, “The Incredible Shrinking Portuguese Firm,” http://papers.nber.org/papers/w17265#fromrss. 

Nicholas Bloom, Raffaella Sadun, and John Van Reenen, “Recent Advances in the Empirics of Organizational Economics,” http://cep.lse.ac.uk/pubs/download/dp0970.pdf.

Nicholas Bloom, Raffaella Sadun, and John Van Reenen, the slides for “Americans do I.T. Better: US Multinationals and the Productivity Miracle,” http://www.people.hbs.edu/rsadun/ADITB/ADIBslides.pdf, the paper is here http://www.stanford.edu/~nbloom/ADIB.pdf but I recommend focusing on the slides.

Bloom, Nicholas, Raffaella Sadun, and John Van Reenen. “Management as a Technology?” National Bureau of Economic Research working paper 22327, June 2016.

Syerson, Chad “What Determines Productivity?” Journal of Economic Literature, June 2011, XLIX, 2, 326-365.

David Lagakos, “Explaining Cross-Country Productivity Differences in Retail Trade,” Journal of Political Economy, April 2016, 124, 2, 1-49.

Casselman, Ben. “Corporate America Hasn’t Been Disrupted.” FiveThirtyEight, August 8, 2014.

Decker, Ryan and John Haltiwanger, Ron S. Jarmin, and Javier Miranda. “Where Has all the Skewness Gone?  The Decline in High-Growth (Young) Firms in the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research working paper 21776, December 2015.

Furman, Jason and Peter Orszag. “A Firm-Level Perspective on the Role of Rents in the Rise in Inequality.” October 16, 2015.

http://evansoltas.com/2016/05/07/pro-business-reform-pro-growth/

Furman, Jason. ”Business Investment in the United States: Facts, Explanations, Puzzles, and Policy.” Remarks delivered at the Progressive Policy Institute, September 30, 2015, on-line at https://m.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/page/files/20150930_business_investment_in_the_united_states.pdf.

Scharfstein, David S. and Stein, Jeremy C.  “Herd Behavior and Investment.”  American Economic Review 80 (June 1990): 465-479.

Stein, Jeremy C. “Efficient Capital Markets, Inefficient Firms: A Model of Myopic Corporate Behavior.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 104 (November 1989): 655-670.

 

Sectors: finance, health care, education, others

Gorton, Gary B. “Slapped in the Face by the Invisible Hand: Banking and the Panic of 2007,” http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1401882, published on-line in 2009. 

Erel, Isil, Nadault, Taylor D., and Stulz, Rene M., “Why Did U.S. Banks Invest in Highly-Rated Securitization Tranches?” NBER Working Paper 17269, August 2011. 

Healy, Kieran. “The Persistence of the Old Regime.” Crooked Timber blog, August 6, 2014.

More to be added, depending on your interests.

Do parents know best about schooling?

Diether W. Beuermann and C. Kirabo Jackson report:

Recent studies document that, in many cases, sought after schools do not improve student test scores. Three explanations are that (i) existing studies identify local average treatment effects that do not generalize to the average student, (ii) parents cannot discern schools’ causal impacts, and (iii) parents value schools that improve outcomes not well measured by test scores. To shed light on this, we employ administrative and survey data from Barbados. Using discrete choice models, we document that most parents have strong preferences for the same schools. Using a regression-discontinuity design, we estimate the causal impact of attending a preferred school on a broad array of outcomes. As found in other settings, preferred schools have better peers, but do not improve short-run test scores. We implement a new statistical test and find that this null effect is not due to school impacts being different for marginal students than for the average student. Looking at longer-run outcomes, for girls, preferred schools reduce teen motherhood, increase educational attainment, increase earnings, and improve health. In contrast, for boys, the results are mixed. The pattern for girls is consistent with parents valuing school impacts on outcomes not well measured by test scores, while the pattern for boys is consistent with parents being unable to identify schools’ causal impacts. Our results indicate that impacts on test scores may be an incomplete measure of school quality.

A neglected point…Arnold Kling, telephone!

Gender-neutral tenure clock stopping doesn’t work

Using a unique data set on the universe of assistant professor hires at top-50 economics departments from 1980-2005, we show that the adoption of gender-neutral tenure clock stopping policies substantially reduced female tenure rates while substantially increasing male tenure rates.

That is from Heather Antecol, Kelly Bedard, and Jenna Stearns in a forthcoming AER, via Claire Lehmann

The Economics behind the Math Gender Gap

Juan Sebastián Muñoz (the economist, not the golfer) has a new paper on this topic, focusing on Colombia:

The literature that has previously shown that boys outperform girls in math tests has failed to explain the underlying causes of the phenomenon. This math gender gap has been documented to vary across countries, and shown to grow as students advance through school. In this paper I suggest that these patterns may be explained by sample selection caused by gender differences in schooling’s opportunity costs, which lead lower-achieving males to drop out. I present and test the implications of a labor supply model that examines the opportunity cost of school attendance and, thereby, the observed math gender gap. Using an exogenous policy change, the launch of a conditional cash transfers program in Colombia,
I estimate that sample selection explains between 50 percent and 60 percent of the gap. Estimates of non-parametric bounds show that selection in the lower quantiles of the male distribution explains a significant portion of the gap.

More on statistical discrimination

A few of you have raised objections to my recent statistical discrimination hypothesis on the grounds that, if it were true, minority group members who “made it to the top” should be the super-achievers, since they had to pass through so many screens and implicit taxes.  I wrote back the following (edited) in an email:

Maybe, but I think you are assuming fixed quality of talent within each sector.

Let’s say there are two sectors. In the first, the CEO sector, women face statistical discrimination and there are multiple levels. In the second there is no statistical discrimination, let us call it women’s tennis but of course there are other examples too.

It could be that most of the talented women, those who can judge where they really will succeed best and most easily, flock to the latter sectors.  In which case the winners in the CEO sector need not be so special, including in the presence of discrimination.

That also means that employers and intermediaries have no special incentives to hunt for that talent: it has run away to other, less discriminatory sectors (and lowered wages in those sectors, I might add).

By the way, here was one good comment by Willitts on that post:

…if the signal of skill is “years of experience,” then the person filtered at the lower level will always look objectively worse at the higher level filters.

You’re assuming that the higher level decision makers have the opportunity (and desire) to consider walk-on candidates. You’re also assuming that those walk-ons will have adequate means to signal their superiority to those who passed through the filters.

I might be able to be the best CEO who ever lived, but my lack of management experience would never get me in the door for an interview. If (mild) discrimination at several rungs of the ladder kept me from rising to the penultimate rung, I’d have ZERO chance of attaining the top rung, not merely a small chance

And David:

Most elite performers are impressive throughout their lives. But they can stay constantly motivated, by rising through the ranks quickly. A stat-discriminated person might not have that advantage either.

And Jwilli7122:

Well, with the first gatekeeper there’s really no motivation to gamble on the marginalized, because a) there’s not yet a big gap and b) doing so would give up the profit of stereotyping (see the Bayesian analysis referenced in #3 of Dan’s post).

And as you get to the subsequent gatekeepers, a larger actual ability gap starts to form because the discrimination of prior gatekeepers prevented the marginalized group from gaining valuable experience.

I will continue to ponder this problem.

Crowdfunding science, from other scientists

…all qualified scientists would get some guaranteed funding — no grants required. But there should be one added step: everyone must anonymously allocate a fraction of their funds to other researchers of their own choosing.

The goal of this system would be to let scientists devote more of their time to research…

In SOFA [Self-Organizing Funding Allocation], every participant starts with the same allocation of funding every year but must allot a portion to other scientists. Reasons to select someone could range from, ‘That was a great paper’ to ‘I think they will release useful data.’ Those who get the most give the most, because scientists give a percentage of everything received under SOFA. To avoid currying favour, this process will be anonymous…

We can limit collusions and kickback schemes — the financial equivalent of citation cartels — by mandating a minimum number of recipients and restricting people from designating frequent collaborators, or colleagues at the same institution. Counteracting gender, age and prestige biases that plague conventional peer review might even be easier in SOFA because they are measurable.

Here is the Johan Bollen piece in Nature.

My musical self-education

Musick-er requests:

I’ve noticed that you tend to have pretty wide ranging tastes in music, and your recommendation on introduction to classical music was pretty spot-on. I’m wondering what training/expertise you have in music theory/aural skills?…As someone who is obviously very intelligent but not a musician (that I know of), I wonder how you interact with Bach or other master composers – what criteria do you listen for? What makes great works stand out from the merely good?

My history is this:

1. I learned how to play the guitar when I was twelve or so, and also figured out how a piano works.

2. I spent about six years studying jazz chords, American popular song, some classic rock, early acoustic blues and ragtime, Fahey/Kottke, and Bach.  I also learned how to listen with a score, at least for guitar and piano pieces.

3. Later in life, I focused on trying to make sense of early to mid 20th century classical music and Indian classical music, both excellent entry points for many of the other difficult musical genres and styles.  I tried to learn at least something about micro-tonal musics and ragas.

4. Starting in my thirties, I tried to develop a basic familiarity with world musics, not so much the European folkie stuff as those based on different conceptual principles, such as some of the Arab musics, Chinese music, and African musics including the Pygmies.

5. I cultivated “music mentors” to help me understand these musics.  Overall this is not a very book-intensive endeavor, though you will enjoy reading accompanying biographies.

I am not saying that is the right path for everyone, but I found it very rewarding, including for my broader understanding of history.

To address one of the specific questions, I think of Bach-Stravinsky, classic rock, and Indian classical music (live only) as covering some of mankind’s greatest cultural achievements, with only cinema in the running for possible parity.  Most of all just listen plenty, noting that the canonical opinions about what is best are actually pretty much on the mark.

Why statistical discrimination is higher than is either socially optimal or Bayesian rational

Let’s say there is only a mild amount of statistical discrimination in a system.  Not prejudice, just a social judgment that some groups are more likely to succeed at some tasks than others.  Most people, for instance, do not expect women to reach the NBA, but I would not from that conclude they are prejudiced.

But now introduce a further assumption.  There are multiple layers of evaluation, and at each layer people, and institutions, wish to be seen as successful talent spotters, mentors, and coaches.  High schools wish to promote students who will get into good colleges.  Colleges wish to invest in students who will get into best grad schools, or get the best jobs.  Firms wish to hire workers who will rise to CEO, even if elsewhere.  And so on.  Let’s say there are ten levels to this “game.”

Each level will apply its own “statistical discrimination” tax, whether intentionally or not.  Say for instance there is (mild) statistical discrimination against women at the CEO level.  Firms that wish to hire and promote future CEOs will be less likely to seek out women to hire, including at lower levels.  This may or may not be conscious bias; for instance the firms may decide to look for certain personality traits that, for whatever reason, are harder to find in women.  They’ll simply be making decisions that give them plaudits as good talent spotters.

Colleges will then consider similar factors in their decisions.  And so will high schools.  And so on.  In equilibrium, all ten levels of the game will levy a partial “statistical discrimination tax,” with or without conscious bias in thee discriminatory direction.

Does this sound familiar?  It is a bit like the double/multiple marginalization dilemma in microeconomics.  The number of discrimination taxes multiplies, at each level.  Just like the medieval barons put too many tolls on the river.  All of a sudden the initially mild statistical discrimination isn’t so mild any more, due to it being applied at so many veto-relevant levels.  (As you will recall from the double marginalization problem, each supplier does not take into account the effect of his/her mark-up or tax on the gains from trade elsewhere in the system.)

So say the “Bayesian rational” level of statistical discrimination is a five percent discount.  You can get far more than that as the actual effective tax on the disadvantaged group, with everyone in the system behaving in a self-interested manner.

And of course these taxes will discourage effort from the disadvantaged groups, to the detriment of efficiency and also justice.

I am indebted to Anecdotal for a useful query related to this discussion.

My Conversation with Michael Pollan

I was very happy with how this turned out, here is the audio and transcript.  Here is how the CWTeam summarized it:

Michael Pollan has long been fascinated by nature and the ways we connect and clash with it, with decades of writing covering food, farming, cooking, and architecture. Pollan’s latest fascination? Our widespread and ancient desire to use nature to change our consciousness.

He joins Tyler to discuss his research and experience with psychedelics, including what kinds of people most benefit from them, what it can teach us about profundity, how it can change your personality and political views, the importance of culture in shaping the experience, the proper way to integrate it into mainstream practice, and — most importantly of all — whether it’s any fun.

He argues that LSD is underrated, I think it may be good for depression but for casual use it is rapidly becoming overrated.  Here is one exchange of relevance:

COWEN: Let me try a very philosophical question. Let’s say I could take a pill or a substance, and it would make everything seem profound. My receptivity to finding things profound would go up greatly. I could do very small events, and it would seem profound to me.

Is that, in fact, real profundity that I’m experiencing? Doesn’t real profundity somehow require excavating or experiencing things from actual society? Are psychedelics like taking this pill? They don’t give you real profundity. You just feel that many things are profound, but at the end of the experience, you don’t really have . . .

POLLAN: It depends. If you define profundity or the profound as exceptional, you have a point.

One of the things that’s very interesting about psychedelics is that our brains are tuned for novelty, and for good reason. It’s very adaptive to respond to new things in the environment, changes in your environment, threats in your environment. We’re tuned to disregard the familiar or take it for granted, which is indeed what most of us do.

One of the things that happens on psychedelics, and on cannabis interestingly enough — and there’s some science on it in the case of cannabis; I don’t think we’ve done the science yet with psychedelics — is that the familiar suddenly takes on greater weight, and there’s an appreciation of the familiar. I think a lot of familiar things are profound if looked at in the proper way.

The feelings of love I have for people in my family are profound, but I don’t always feel that profundity. Psychedelics change that balance. I talk in the book about having emotions that could be on Hallmark cards. We don’t think of Hallmark cards as being profound, but in fact, a lot of those sentiments are, properly regarded.

Yes, there are those moments you’ve smoked cannabis, and you’re looking at your hand, and you go, “Man, hands, they’re f — ing incredible.” You’re just taken with this. Is that profound or not? It sounds really goofy, but I think the line between profundity and banality is a lot finer than we think.

And:

COWEN: I’ve never myself tried psychedelics. But I’ve asked the question, if I were to try, how would I think about what is the stopping point?

For my own life, I like, actually, to do the same things over and over again. Read books. Eat food. Spend time with friends. You can just keep on doing them, basically, till you die. I feel I’m in a very good groove on all of those.

If you take it once, and say you find it entrancing or interesting or attractive, what’s the thought process? How do you model what happens next?

POLLAN: That’s one of the really interesting things about them. You have this big experience, often positive, not always though. I had, on balance . . . all the experiences I described in the book, with one notable exception, were very positive experiences.

But I did not have a powerful desire to do it again. It doesn’t have that self-reinforcing quality, the dopamine release, I don’t know what it is, that comes with things that we like doing: eating and sex and sleep, all this kind of stuff. Your first thought after a big psychedelic experience is not “When can I do it again?” It’s like, “Do I ever have to do it again?”

COWEN: It doesn’t sound fun, though. What am I missing?

POLLAN: It’s not fun. For me, it’s not fun. I think there are doses where that might apply — low dose, so-called recreational dose, when people take some mushrooms and go to a concert, and they’re high essentially.

But the kind of experience I’m describing is a lot more — I won’t use the word profound because we’ve charged that one — that is a very internal and difficult journey that has moments of incredible beauty and lucidity, but also has dark moments, moments of contemplating death. Nothing you would describe as recreational except in the actual meaning of the word, which is never used. It’s not addictive, and I think that’s one of the reasons.

I did just talk to someone, though, who came up to me at a book signing, a guy probably in his 70s. He said, “I’ve got to tell you about the time I took LSD 16 days in a row.” That was striking. You can meet plenty of people who have marijuana or a drink 16 days in a row. But that was extraordinary. I don’t know why he did it. I’m curious to find out exactly what he got out of it.

In general, there’s a lot of space that passes. For the Grateful Dead, I don’t know. Maybe it was a nightly thing for them. But for most people, it doesn’t seem to be.

COWEN: Say I tried it, and I found it fascinating but not fun. Shouldn’t I then think there’s something wrong with me that the fascinating is not fun? Shouldn’t I downgrade my curiosity?

POLLAN: [laughs] Aren’t there many fascinating things that aren’t fun?

COWEN: All the ones I know, I find fun. This is what’s striking to me about your answer. It’s very surprising.

W even talk about LSD and sex, and why a writer’s second book is the key book for understanding that writer.  Toward the end we cover the economics of food, and, of course, the Michael Pollan production function:

COWEN: What skill do you tell them to invest in?

POLLAN: I tell them to read a lot. I’m amazed how many writing students don’t read. It’s criminal. Also, read better writers than you are. In other words, read great fiction. Cultivate your ear. Writing is a form of music, and we don’t pay enough attention to that.

When I’m drafting, there’s a period where I’m reading lots of research, and scientific articles, and history, and undistinguished prose, but as soon as I’m done with that and I’ve started drafting a chapter or an article, I stop reading that kind of stuff.

Before I go to bed, I read a novel every night. I read several pages of really good fiction. That’s because you do a lot of work in your sleep, and I want my brain to be in a rhythm of good prose.

Defininitely recommended, as is Michael’s latest book How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.

10 Things I Learned: Tyler Cowen

That is a short interview with me from Northern Virginia magazine, here is one excerpt:

When did you feel you had “made it”?

Jan. 21, 1962 (his birthday). That was a turning point of sorts for me.

How do you define success?

Learning something new all the time, and staying healthy. Getting paid. Interacting with smart people. Having the chance to pass something along to others.

And:

What do you do after a disappointment?

Bid higher next time.

Give us an idea of your work/life balance philosophy.

Do I even try to do balance? For me they are more or less the same. I know that makes me difficult. But I’ve ended up writing about what were once hobbies, and using so-called “leisure” time to prepare for research, writing, speaking and so on. My social life is pretty closely tied to my work life.

And at the end:

Any advice for those who are going into your field?

Listen also to the advice of people who are not in your field. A lot of budding academics listen too much to their advisor and don’t receive enough feedback and mentoring from a broader set of sources.

Self-recommended!

That was then, this is now, a continuing series

This is part of a letter from Miss Howe to Miss Clarissa Harlowe, from Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa [1748].

You and I have often retrospected the faces and minds of grown people; that is to say, have formed images for their present appearances, outside and in, (as far as the manners of the persons would justify us in the latter) what sort of figures they made when boys and girls. And I’ll tell you the lights in which HICKMAN, SOLMES, and LOVELACE, our three heroes, have appeared to me, supposing them boys at school.

Solmes I have imagined to be a little sordid, pilfering rogue, who would purloin from every body, and beg every body’s bread and butter from him; while, as I have heard a reptile brag, he would in a winter-morning spit upon his thumbs, and spread his own with it, that he might keep it all to himself.

Hickman, a great overgrown, lank-haired, chubby boy, who would be hunched and punched by every body; and go home with his finger in his eye, and tell his mother.

While Lovelace I have supposed a curl-pated villain, full of fire, fancy, and mischief; an orchard-robber, a wall-climber, a horse-rider without saddle or bridle, neck or nothing: a sturdy rogue, in short, who would kick and cuff, and do no right, and take no wrong of any body; would get his head broke, then a plaster for it, or let it heal of itself; while he went on to do more mischief, and if not to get, to deserve, broken bones. And the same dispositions have grown up with them, and distinguish them as me, with no very material alteration.

Only that all men are monkeys more or less, or else that you and I should have such baboons as these to choose out of, is a mortifying thing, my dear.

I am enjoying this splendid book for the first time, and yes it is OK to read an abridged edition.

How does your personality correlate with your paycheck?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

Gensowski revisits a data set from all schools in California, grades 1-8, in 1921-1922, based on the students who scored in the top 0.5 percent of the IQ distribution. At the time that meant scores of 140 or higher. The data then cover how well these students, 856 men and 672 women, did through 1991. The students were rated on their personality traits and behaviors, along lines similar to the “Big Five” personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

One striking result is how much the trait of conscientiousness matters. Men who measure as one standard deviation higher on conscientiousness earn on average an extra $567,000 over their lifetimes, or 16.7 percent of average lifetime earnings.

Measuring as extroverted, again by one standard deviation higher than average, is worth almost as much, $490,100. These returns tend to rise the most for the most highly educated of the men.

For women, the magnitude of these effects is smaller…

It may surprise you to learn that more “agreeable” men earn significantly less. Being one standard deviation higher on agreeableness reduces lifetime earnings by about 8 percent, or $267,600.

There is much more at the link, and no I do not confuse causality with correlation.  See also my remarks on how this data set produces some results at variance with the signaling theory of education.  Here is the original study.

The Pioneer project: finding “the lost Einsteins”

Silicon Valley has created a model for identifying and nurturing high-potential young companies…Pioneer… hopes to do much the same thing for high-potential people.

The group, which is being announced on Thursday, plans to use the internet-era tools of global communication and crowdsourcing to solicit and help select promising candidates in a variety of fields, along with evaluations by experts. Its goal is to put more science and less happenstance into the process of talent discovery — and reach more people, wherever they are in the world.

“We’re trying to build a kind of search engine for finding great people with talent, ambition and potential,” said Daniel Gross, 27, the group’s founder…

Selecting “pioneers” will begin with a monthlong online tournament. Candidates will submit their project ideas. Each week, the projects will be updated. The candidates will vote on each other’s projects, points will be awarded and there will be leader board. Subject experts will also vote, with their votes counting somewhat more than the candidates’.

That is from Steve Lohr at The New York Times, with much more at the link.  Here is the account from Daniel Gross at Pioneer.  I am pleased and honored to be an (informal) advisor to this project.