Category: Education

My Conversation with Edwidge Danticat

Here is the audio, video, and transcript.  Here is the CWT summary:

She joined Tyler to discuss the reasons Haitian identity and culture will likely persist in America, the vibrant Haitian art scenes, why Haiti has the best food in the Caribbean, how radio is remaining central to Haitian politics, why teaching in Creole would improve Haitian schools, what’s special about the painted tap-taps, how tourism influenced Haitian art, working with Jonathan Demme, how the CDC destroyed the Haitian tourism industry, her perspective on the Black Lives Matter movement, why she writes better at night, the hard lessons of Haiti’s political history, and more.

Here is one excerpt:

Recommended.  And I thank Carl-Henri Prophète for assistance with the transcription.

Christina Romer!

Christina Romer is excellent in this video on her work and influence. Obama had a great line. When Romer, clearly upset, told Obama that the economy was much worse than expected and heading downwards he replied, “Christy, it’s not your fault….yet.”

An interesting tension in Romer’s work. Her early work suggests that macroeconomic policy has not done much to stabilize the economy. Yet her later work has been in trying to stabilize the economy!

Claims emailed to me, probably true claims at that

Un-convinceable people are frustrating to talk to.

But being around only convinceable people, you just end up at the average belief.

Having a diverse variety of unconvinceable people to sample from (and move away from when it gets to be too much), and a group of convinceable people with whom to hash out the ideas and find the best versions, seems like the ideal.

I think I gravitate too much to the convinceable, finding the nonconvinceable too annoying except in very small doses.

The class culture that is Britain

Universities must act to eradicate discrimination against working-class students, including the mockery of regional accents, equality campaigners have said.

A Guardian investigation has found widespread evidence of students at some of the country’s leading universities being ridiculed over their accents and backgrounds, in some cases prompting them to leave education….

The Social Mobility Commission (SMC), which monitors progress in improving social mobility in the UK, described the situation as unacceptable and said accents had become a “tangible barrier” for some students.

This week the Guardian reported complaints of a “toxic attitude” towards some northern students at Durham University. Last month the university launched an inquiry after wealthy prospective freshers reportedly planned a competition to have sex with the poorest student they could find.

Here is the full story, via a loyal MR reader.

Hayekian behavioral economics

From Cass Sunstein:

A neo-Hayekian approach would seek to reduce the knowledge problem by asking not what outsiders want, but what individual choosers actually do under epistemically favorable conditions. In practice, that question can be disciplined by asking five subsidiary questions: (1) What do consistent choosers, unaffected by self-evidently irrelevant factors, end up choosing? (2) What do informed choosers choose? (3) What do active choosers choose? (4) In circumstances in which people are free of behavioral biases, including (say) present bias or unrealistic optimism, what do they choose? (5) What do people choose when their viewscreen is broad, and they do not suffer from limited attention? These kinds of questions can be answered empirically. An ongoing program of research, coming from a diverse assortment of people, explores these questions, and can be seen to be producing a form of Hayekian behavioral economics – Hayekian in the sense that it can claim to be respectful of Hayek’s fundamental concerns.

In my vision of Hayekian behavioral economics, people draw excessively upon local information, because they did not evolve with technologies that sometimes allow them to see global or at least non-local considerations.  The properties of the price system mean this often works just fine, but the corny recommendation to “expand your horizons” is nonetheless often good advice.  Also along Hayekian lines, people apply small group norms (atavism!) to large groups settings (Twitter!).  “Don’t be so neurotic!’ is thus also at the margin usually good advice.

Overall, I view Hayekian behavioral economics as an underexplored area, so I am very happy to see this paper come into existence.

Clubhouse

I’ve tried it a few times, and I think it will become “a thing.”  You can read about it here, though it is time someone did a more current article.  It is the best forum invented to date for mid-size, friendly, intellectual chats.  Broadly speaking imagine a Zoom call, with competing topic-named rooms, the video turned off, and better queuing and calling upon people procedures.  It doesn’t seem to induce fatigue the way Zoom calls do.  The software has a fluidity and ease of use that I hardly ever see, as usually I hate new apps that people tell me to try.

I don’t know that it will ever be “my thing,” mostly because I can read so quickly, which raises my opportunity cost of consumption.  (Though you can read with it on in the background — is it ever the case that no one in the audience is listening?  Would that even matter?)  In any case, I suspect it will take some real mind-share away from Twitter and Facebook, and now is the time for you to start learning about it.

So far it is invite-only, though I assume it will be opening up more broadly.  Furthermore, an invitation is not so difficult to get.  Arguably there is a problem with who gets invited or deplatformed, though so far this seems to bother the (non-participating) people on Twitter more than it disturbs anyone performing on Clubhouse itself.

It is much more Tiebout-like than Zoom, so someday this also may be an incredible data source on what leads to useful conversations, which are the best governance rules, and so on.

Solve for the China equilibrium

Chinese government officials are warning their American counterparts they may detain U.S. nationals in China in response to the Justice Department’s prosecution of Chinese military-affiliated scholars, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Chinese officials have issued the warnings to U.S. government representatives repeatedly and through multiple channels, the people said, including through the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

The Chinese message, the people said, has been blunt: The U.S. should drop prosecutions of the Chinese scholars in American courts, or Americans in China might find themselves in violation of Chinese law.

Here is more from the WSJ.  Three to four years ago I used to explain to friends and family that I needed to visit China as much as possible very quickly, because soon enough my opportunities would be over.  And it seems that now — even without the Covid factor — we have reached that point.

Keynes on what is required to make a great economist

The study of economics does not seem to require any specialized gifts of an unusually high order. Is it not, intellectually regarded, a very easy subject compared with the higher branches of philosophy and pure science? Yet good, or even competent, economists are the rarest of birds. An easy subject, at which very few excel! The paradox finds its explanation, perhaps, in that the master-economist must possess a rare combination of gifts. He must reach a high standard in several different directions and must combine talents not often found together.  He must be mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher – in some degree. He must understand symbols and speak in words. He must contemplate the particular in terms of the general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought. He must study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future. No part of man’s nature of his institutions must lie entirely outside his regard. He must be purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood; as aloof and incorruptible as an artist, yet sometimes as near the earth as a politician.

That is from Keynes’s 1924 essay on Marshall, reprinted in Essays in Biography. Most of all, it is Keynes describing himself!

What is your useless superpower?

Trey Miller emails me about my polymaths post, and my observation that: “One of my views in talent search is that extremely talented people are almost always extraordinarily good at one or more entirely trivial tasks.”

Tyler…I’ve referred to this as a “Useless Super-Power.”

I’m not a polymath, but one of my Useless Super-Powers is the ability to pour nearly identical amounts of liquid without thought or effort. In practice, for example: if I’m pouring wine for four people, there is almost always no visible difference between the contents of the glasses. I am not, and never have been, a professional waiter or held a related job.

I would love to see a list of other people’s examples…

I am pretty good at knowing how long a particular journey will take, or at waking up at exactly the time of my choosing (neither is entirely useless I might add).  How about you?

Mormon markets in everything?

Or is it thwarted Mormon markets in everything?:

Brigham Young University-Idaho is warning students that if they try to get the novel coronavirus, they will be suspended from school.

BYU-Idaho issued a statement Monday, saying administrators are “deeply troubled” about students intentionally exposing themselves or others to COVID-19, with the hope of getting the disease so they can be paid for plasma that contains COVID-19 antibodies.

Here is the full story, via John Chilton.

Does economic value reside in the brain?

I do not feel qualified to have an opinion here, but this piece, by Benjamin Y. Hayden and Yael Niv, seems of some interest:

Much of traditional neuroeconomics proceeds from the hypothesis that value is reified in the brain, that is, that there are neurons or brain regions whose responses serve the discrete purpose of encoding value. This hypothesis is supported by the finding that the activity of many neurons and brain regions covaries with subjective value as estimated in specific tasks. Here we consider an alternative: that value is not represented in the brain. This idea is motivated by close consideration of the economic concept of value, which places important epistemic constraints on our ability to identify its neural basis. It is also motivated by the behavioral economics literature, especially work on heuristics. Finally, it is buoyed by recent neural and behavioral findings regarding how animals and humans learn to choose between options. In light of our hypothesis, we critically reevaluate putative neural evidence for the representation of value, and explore an alternative: that brains directly learn action policies. We delineate how this alternative can provide a robust account of behavior that concords with existing empirical data.

Via Benjamin Lyons.

Emergent Ventures winners, new India cohort

A further Covid-19 India Prize goes to award winning journalist Barkha Dutt for her reporting on the Covid pandemic and related crises in India.

Because of the Covid lockdown (March-June 2020), Indian news reporting and broadcasting faced severe disruptions in March-April 2020. For the first 50 days, as television networks remained studio-bound, Dutt and her small team traveled across India to report from the ground, producing over 250 ground reports. All the videos and reports are available on the MoJo youtube channel.

One of the world’s most severe lockdowns unleashed a massive internal migration from the cities to the villages in India. Dutt’s team was one of the first to shed light on the erroneous state policies concerning economic migrants in India during the lockdown,, often while walking alongside migrants. Her sustained coverage eventually led other stations and newspapers to follow and report similar stories and invoked a policy response from the government.

Another Covid-19 India Prize goes to award winning data journalist Rukmini S, for The Moving Curve Podcast, covering the data issues in India. She is currently an independent journalist writing for MintThe PrintIndia Today (where she is tracking the pandemic daily) and India Spend (she is tracking Covid mortality) and writes occasionally for The GuardianSCMP and The Hindu.

She distills all the information, data, and her daily insights into a 5-7-minute audio update in the form of a free podcast, now at 92 episodes. The episodes range from getting to the heart of India’s death statisticsinterviewing a rural doctor about what it’s like waiting for Covid to hit, to attempting to cut through India’s public/ private healthcare binary, and they have had significant influence on many state governments. The Moving Curve podcast is produced by a small team of two – Rukmini S and sound engineer Anand Krishnamoorthi. The podcast is available on the major platforms as well as on medium.

My Conversation with Audrey Tang

For me one of the most fun episodes, here is the audio, video, and transcript.  And here is the longer than ever before summary, befitting the chat itself:

Audrey Tang began reading classical works like the Shūjīng and Tao Te Ching at the age of 5 and learned the programming language Perl at the age of 12. Now, the autodidact and self-described “conservative anarchist” is a software engineer and the first non-binary digital minister of Taiwan. Their work focuses on how social and digital technologies can foster empathy, democracy, and human progress.

Audrey joined Tyler to discuss how Taiwan approached regulating Chinese tech companies, the inherent extraterritoriality of data norms, how Finnegans Wake has influenced their approach to technology, the benefits of radical transparency in communication, why they appreciate the laziness of Perl, using “humor over rumor” to combat online disinformation, why Taiwan views democracy as a set of social technologies, how their politics have been influenced by Taiwan’s indigenous communities and their oral culture, what Chinese literature teaches about change, how they view Confucianism as a Daoist, how they would improve Taiwanese education, why they view mistakes in the American experiment as inevitable — but not insurmountable, the role of civic tech in Taiwan’s pandemic response, the most important remnants of Japanese influence remaining in Taiwan, why they love Magic: The Gathering, the transculturalism that makes Taiwan particularly open and accepting of LGBT lifestyles, growing up with parents who were journalists, how being transgender makes them more empathetic, the ways American values still underpin the internet, what he learned from previous Occupy movements, why translation, rotation, and scaling are important skills for becoming a better thinker, and more.

This bit could have come from GPT-3:

COWEN: How useful a way is it of conceptualizing your politics to think of it as a mix of some Taiwanese Aboriginal traditions mixed in with Daoism, experience in programming, and then your own theory of humor and fun? And if you put all of that together, the result is Audrey Tang’s politics. Correct or not?

TANG: Well as of now, of course. But of course, I’m also growing, like a distributed ledger.

And this:

COWEN: You’re working, of course, in Taiwanese government. What’s the biggest thing wrong with economists?

TANG: You mean the magazine?

COWEN: No, no, the people, economists as thinkers. What’s their biggest defect or flaw?

TANG: I don’t know. I haven’t met an economist that I didn’t like, so I don’t think there’s any particular personality flaws there.

Finally:

COWEN: Now, my country, the United States, has made many, many mistakes at an almost metaphysical level. What is it in the United States that those mistakes have come from? What’s our deeper failing behind all those mistakes?

TANG: I don’t know. Isn’t America this grand experiment to keep making mistakes and correcting them in the open and share it with the world? That’s the American experiment.

COWEN: Have we started correcting them yet?

TANG: I’m sure that you have.

Definitely recommended.