Category: Education

What makes New York City so wonderful

So used to the one measure of status in Washington — political power — the Republicans may find New York to be a disconcerting place.

No New Yorker wins every contest. In fact, every New Yorker is going to see someone in the next 15 minutes who will bring them down a notch. This gaze economy has so many scales of value that no one gets to triumph. Indeed, the higher we score on one scale, the lower we score on another. Interestingly, there is no exit scenario. Unless we spend all our time at home and the club, we must expose ourselves to diminishment. Or to put this in the form of a trade off, we cannot present ourselves for approval, without exposing ourselves to the reminder that we are, in someone’s world, a dolt.

In other words, life in a (relative) meritocracy is tough. But it is also good for you in the longer run. That’s from a longer post by Grant McCracken, my favorite anthropologist-blogger. Read the whole discussion, and thanks to Virginia Postrel for the pointer. Also scroll down on his blog to read a series of posts on the “gaze economy.”

Is education good for growth?

It has long been received wisdom that education spurs economic growth. The education variable pops up as significant in many cross-country regressions. And many of the East Asian countries have had high investment in education and high rates of economic growth.

So how might a skeptical take on this matter look? Here is one pithy excerpt:

…there is actually a striking global correspondence between the world economic slowdown since 1973 and ever-increasing levels of educational spending. Comparisons between countries also confound the idea that more education translates into more growth. For example, South Korea is often given as an example of a country that made education a priority since the 1960s and saw significant economic growth. But as Professor Alison Wolf from King’s College London points out, Egypt has also prioritised investing in education, but its growth record has been poor (4). Between 1970 and 1998 Egypt’s primary enrolment rates grew to more than 90 per cent, secondary schooling levels went from 32 per cent to 75 per cent, and university education doubled – yet over the same period Egypt moved from being the world’s forty-seventh poorest country to being the forty-eighth.

A retort might be that education isn’t the sole determinant of growth – other factors may offset its positive economic role – but it remains a necessary one. But this argument doesn’t stand up either. The rapid growth of Hong Kong, another of the East Asian tigers, wasn’t accompanied by substantial investment in education. Its expansion of secondary and university education came later, as more prosperous Hong Kong parents used some of their newfound wealth to give their children a better education than they had had.

William Easterly doubts the evidence:

‘African countries with rapid growth in human capital [the fashionable term for people’s work abilities, especially levels of education] over the 1960 to 1987 period – countries like Angola, Mozambique, Ghana, Zambia, Madagascar, Sudan, and Senegal – were nevertheless growth disasters. Countries like Japan, with modest growth in human capital, were growth miracles. Other East Asian miracles like Singapore, Korea, China, and Indonesia did have rapid growth in human capital, but equal to or less than that of the African growth disasters. To take one comparison, Zambia had slightly faster expansion in human capital than Korea, but Zambia’s growth rate was seven percentage points lower.

‘…Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union compare favourably with Western Europe and North America in years of schooling attained. Yet we now know that [gross domestic product] per worker was only a small fraction of Western European and North American levels. For example, the 97 per cent secondary enrolment ratio of the United States is only slightly higher than Ukraine’s 92 per cent, but the United States has nine times the per capita income of Ukraine’ (6).

My main worry concerns the hoary distinction between correlation and causation. The consumption component of education is commonly underrated. Rich countries spend more on education for the same reason that they consume more leisure. See my previous MR post on education and economic growth.

The German earthquake, a continuing series…

A taboo in German higher education may soon be broken: Politicians of all parties are bracing for the possibility that German students will have to pay fees for their university studies for the first time since tuition was abolished in 1969.

Don’t expect large fees, but sense is being brought to Europe’s center slowly but surely. You can bet on the “slowly” most of all.

Here is the full story. Here is the last MR installment on German reforms.

Dad is a stinker

Children rate their fathers as among their least popular playmates because they are too competitive, according to research among more than 1,000 youngsters.

They “played to win”, lacked imagination or were simply at a loss as to how to play games, said the Children’s Play Council, which commissioned the survey with the Children’s Society.

Children up to the age of 12 would rather play with their friends, their mother or their brothers and sisters.

Only one in 16 chose their fathers as their ideal companion. Dads were rated slightly above grandparents (one in 33) [so what’s wrong with them, TC asks?]. One in 50 children said they would rather play on their own.

Tim Gill, director of the Children’s Play Council, said: “Dads have difficulty not being too competitive. Several fathers said they found it hard to get down to their children’s level. And they don’t find it easy to let children win.

And what does the resident sociologist say?

Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent at Canterbury, said: “Fathers are living through their children much more which means they lose sight of the line that distinguishes adult from child.

“It’s also partly a power control issue. Fathers want to let their children know they are still ‘players’.”

Here is the full story.

Paul Krugman, Guilty Pleasure

There are lots of good reasons to be annoyed with Paul Krugman. (Like here, here, and here). But as a cock-eyed optimist, I’m very happy to have him around. Think about it: The world’s most famous left-wing economist:

1. Blames European unemployment on labor market regulations that hold wages above the market-clearing level. (The Accidental Theorist, Part 1)

2. Publicly and articulately advocates free trade without hemming or hawing. (Pop Internationalism)

3. Identifies anti-globalization activists as the enemies of the world’s poor. (The Accidental Theorist, Part 3)

4. Titles an essay “In Praise of Cheap Labor: Bad Jobs at Bad Wages Are Better than No Jobs at All” (The Accidental Theorist, Part 3)

5. Points out that if you oppose Big Government, you should favor cutting Social Security, Medicare, and other popular programs. (“The Lost Fig Leaf”) Sure, he’s hoping to scare us away from libertarian rhetoric, but there’s no use running away from the truth.

Yes, he’s been slipping. And it’s tiring to hear an economist so much more successful than me prattling about equality! I don’t begrudge you your publications, Paul, why can’t you let Bill Gates, Monty Burns, and Scrooge McDuck count their billions in peace?

Still, I can’t imagine Paul Samuelson doing any of the above, much less Galbraith. At least in economics, the intellectual climate hasn’t been as good as it is now for a century.

Think again!

Interested in “seductive math problems for the modern mind”? Every day Jan Nordgreen, a Norwegian living in Bolivia, posts a new puzzle on his elegant and fun blog, Think Again!

Here is a recent challenge:

A party consists of three couples. At the end of the party one of the husbands asks the others how many new acquaintances they made during the evening. Everybody gives a different answer. What did his wife answer?

Paying for Open Access

Ideas are public goods so open access publishing is theoretically ideal but how to pay for it? The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the flagship journal of the National Academy of Sciences is trying an experiment. If you can’t charge the readers how about charging the authors? PNAS authors may now opt to pay $1000 to make their articles available for free immediately upon publication.

It’s an interesting idea – authors do receive benefits from publishing papers but in truth it’s more important that the paper be published than read. At $1000, I think the benefits are overpriced especially since some readers do pay for the journal and can read the articles from day one. Also PNAS opens access after 6 months in anycase.

Authors might pay $1000 if a combination of charity, peer-pressure and noblesse-oblige establishes a norm of payment. But therein lies a dilemma. The more authors that are willing to pay for open-access the less readers will be willing to pay for selective access. If every author pays who will buy the journal?

Can $1000 per author support a publication with no paying readers? The American Economic Review publishes about 100 articles a year and has costs in excess of one million dollars – so the economics don’t look good. True, those costs support a print journal and open-access would be electronic online so that makes the equation somewhat easier to balance but it’s still touch and go at best.

Even though I am somewhat skeptical I applaud the Academy for this experiment and I hope that other journals will be equally creative.

Thanks to Monique van Hoek for the pointer.

Buying academic collaboration

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on an Ebay auction conducted by a certain William A. Tozier of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Mr. Tozier, a consultant who specializes in artificial intelligence research, auctioned off an opportunity to co-author a scientific paper. The winner of the auction would get 40 hours of Mr. Tozier’s time and if the work produced an interesting scientific finding, the auction winner and Mr. Tozier would submit a paper to a scientific journal. The benefit to the winner? Aside from producing some science, the winner would have an Erdos number of 5 (click here for an explanation of the Erdos number).

Unsurprisingly, this event has lead to some outrage. The winner of the auction, a mathematician named Jose Burillio, refused to employ Mr. Tozier because he thought Tozier was auctioning off a paper he had already written. If that were the case, then the auction winner was simply buying the opportunity to put his name on work he had no hand in producing – a form of dishonesty. Even when Mr. Burillo found out the truth, he still opposed the auction on the principle that collaboration should not be induced with pay. Mr. Tozier then declared a new winner – the second highest bidder, the owner of a company that makes online course materials.

This incident raises an interesting question – why can’t someone pay for an academic collaborator? In other walks of life, we often pay for crucial knowledge in a field we don’t have expertise in. In the consulting world, research reports are routinely written with individuals who have been paid for their services. It seems that pay for collaboration should be prohibited only when it threatens the integrity of the work. For example, it should be prohibited when the work has already been produced and wealthy individuals are seeking only to attach their name to scientific work in an attempt to buy prestige. This seems to have been the case for the calculus theorem known as L’Hopital’s rule, which some believe to have been discovered by Johann Bernoulli, who might have been paid by the wealthy aristocrat Guillaume de L’Hopital (click here for the story).

But if there is no conflict of interest, or damage to the integrity of the work, then it might be worth considering. It is often common for a researcher to realize they have no knowledge in an area which is crucial to completing their research. One option is to completely master a new field. Another is to hope that a specialist in that area will collaborate out of the goodness of their heart. While these are desirable and preferable outcomes, they are also difficult to obtain. It might also be useful to simply hire someone to help solve a particular problem. As long as the payment is acknowledged at the beginning of a scientific paper (“Professor X has been compensated for his assistance in this work…”), collaboration for pay might be a form of scientific cooperation worth considering. Readers are invited to email me pros and cons of scientific collaboration for pay. Summary of the discussions will be posted later this week.

Economics and Philosophy reading list

Here are Brad DeLong’s picks for such a class. I’ll add Derek Parfit to the list, and maybe Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau, in his Second Discourse, questioned the identification of wealth with welfare. Instead he saw market society as leading individuals into “approbational traps,” whereby they seek more approval but find themselves on a fruitless treadmill in this regard. Parfit asks whether utilitarianism (or consequentialism more generally) can ever dovetail with common sense intuitive morality. I also would have them read McCloskey on economic rhetoric, to better understand the nature of economic argumentation. Then you could add Thomas Schelling on multiple selves, to illustrate the complexities of individual choice; Parfit chips in on this topic as well. If I taught the class for twenty-five weeks, I would consider using Plato’s Republic, which pretty much contains every argument ever made since.

Hey, I taught that class two years ago…!

Education and economic development

…I was left wondering if anybody knew what education was really about. I have begun to suspect that economic development causes education to develop even if governments don’t force it as Korea has done.. After all, that’s how education got started. When we were all hunters and gatherers 10,000 years ago, we did not have time for education…Only when our productivity for food production increased did we have time for other things.

…It’s possible that poor countries today will not get out of their poverty traps without political changes. Those political changes may only be possible with broader education. The point is, however, that education is not a constraint on the ability of today’s workforces to achieve substantial productivity improvement around the world. Constraints on productivity improvements are the reason education is not developing faster around the world.

That’s from William Lewis’s interesting The Power of Productivity.

My take: I’ve never drawn many real conclusions from the cross-sectional correlations between education and economic growth. These statistical methods are not ideal for ferreting out causal relationships. Hours of television watched probably correlates with growth as well. That being said, I do see at least one special feature of education. If a family in a developing country decides to invest heavily in the education of the children, it is a very special signal. That family has crossed a particular line and is taking a very definite stance within its community. That family will almost certainly be a positive force for growth. In this regard investing in education is a bit like converting to Mormonism. The decision to become a Mormon, for growth, can be at least as important as Mormon doctrine itself. Mormon families in Latin America typically are committing to a greater work ethic, tight family bonds, no alcoholism, entrepreneurial aspirations, and close connections to their religious peers.

Addendum: This paper argues that IQ outperforms education in traditional growth equations.

Don’t they hold bake sales any more?

And what ever happened to micro-credit?

Here is just one excerpt:

The principals at the two schools in Oslo where the girls attend are horror-stricken by the fact that the girls are willing to go this far to finance their bus.

«This is something [sic] of the most shocking I have ever had the misfortune to experience,» said one of the principals to the paper. «Don’t doubt for a second that I will discuss this with the class immediately.»

It’s that strict Norwegian discipline kicking in at the end. Here is another Norwegian update, you can now file your tax return by cell phone.