Category: Education

The culture that is Arlington youth soccer

The Arlington Soccer Association is asking parents to pipe down this weekend, scheduling a day of “silent soccer” for its recreational league.

Managers of the 6,000-member league are encouraging parents and other spectators to refrain from cheering and offer their support silently on Saturday (May 12) for teams with players ranging from second grade through high school.

Dan Ferguson, ASA’s recreational soccer director, says fans of kids in kindergarten and first grade will still be able to cheer as loud as they’d like this weekend. But, for the rest of the league’s teams, he’s hoping to give players a bit of a break from the constant feedback they receive from the sidelines.

“It’s a reminder to adults that kids don’t need constant instruction to be able to play the game,” Ferguson told ARLnow. “Sometimes parents feel like their kids are lost when we do this, but we try to tell them: ‘That’s okay.’ We’re not really here for the wins and losses.”

Ferguson says ASA has been holding “silent soccer” days on Mother’s Day weekend for at least the last six or seven years, and he’s consistently gotten positive feedback from coaches and parents about the event. In fact, he says some coaches continue to ask spectators to keep quiet even after the weekend is over.

“The overwhelming reaction is the kids seem to enjoy it,” Ferguson said. “They can actually hear each other talk on the field, communicating with their teammates and giving them instructions.”

Here is the full article, and for the pointer I thank Bruce Arthur.  Via Steve Rossi, here is a related and more general post.

When do men change their last names upon getting married?

Of the 877 men, only 27, or 3 percent, changed their name. Of those, 25 dropped their last name to take their wife’s and two hyphenated their last name. Among the 97 percent who kept their name, 87 percent said their wife took their last name, 4 percent said their wife hyphenated her surname while they made no change, and 6 percent said that neither changed their name. No respondents reported creating a new last name.

The study, published online in May in the Journal of Family Issues, looked at whether a man’s level of education—both his own and relative to his wife’s—influences the likelihood that he chooses a nontraditional surname in marriage.

It found that among men with less than a high school degree, 10.3 percent reported changing their surname. Among men with a high school degree but no college, it was 3.6 percent, and among men with any college, only 2 percent. None of the men surveyed who had an advanced degree changed their name.

Here is the article, via the excellent Samir Varma.  And here is news on Patri.

How do people actually behave when faced with trolley problems?

The poor mice!:

Scholars have been using hypothetical dilemmas to investigate moral decision making for decades. However, whether people’s responses to these dilemmas truly reflect the decisions they would make in real life is unclear. In the current study, participants had to make the real-life decision to administer an electroshock (that they did not know was bogus) to a single mouse or allow five other mice to receive the shock. Our results indicate that responses to hypothetical dilemmas are not predictive of real-life dilemma behavior, but they are predictive of affective and cognitive aspects of the real-life decision. Furthermore, participants were twice as likely to refrain from shocking the single mouse when confronted with a hypothetical versus the real version of the dilemma. We argue that hypothetical-dilemma research, while valuable for understanding moral cognition, has little predictive value for actual behavior and that future studies should investigate actual moral behavior along with the hypothetical scenarios dominating the field.

Here is the paper by Dries H. Bostyn, Sybren Sevenhant, and Arne Roets.

It seems to me that Kant lived a life in accord with his actual doctrines, as did Socrates.  But most philosophers?  Most economists for that matter?  It would be interesting if there was an app that recorded your life, and then wrote up the corresponding moral doctrine in book form.  Or in the case of the economists, it could write out your utility function and adherence to the principle of maximizing expected utility.  Or not.

Hat tip goes to Dina Pomeranz.

My Conversation with Bryan Caplan

Bryan was in top form, I can’t recall hearing him being more interesting or persuasive.  Here is the audio and text.  We talked about whether any single paper is good enough, the autodidact’s curse, the philosopher who most influenced Bryan, the case against education, the Straussian reading of Bryan, effective altruism, Socrates, Larry David, where to live in 527 A.D., the charm of Richard Wagner, and much more.  Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: You love Tolstoy, right?

CAPLAN: Yeah. You love Tolstoy because here’s a guy who not only has this encyclopedic knowledge of human beings — you say he knows human nature. Tolstoy knows human natures. He realizes that there are hundreds of kinds of people, and like an entomologist, he has the patience to study each kind on its own terms.

Tolstoy, you read it: “There are 17 kinds of little old ladies. This was the 13th kind. This was the kind that’s very interested in what you’re eating but doesn’t wish to hear about your romance, which will be contrasted with the seventh kind which has exactly the opposite preferences.” That’s what’s to me so great about Tolstoy.

Here is one of my questions:

What’s the fundamental feature in Bryan Caplan–think that has made you, unlike most other nerds, so much more interested in Stalin than science fiction?

Here is another exchange:

COWEN: You think, in our society in general, this action bias infests everything? Or is there some reason why it’s drawn like a magnet to education?

CAPLAN: Action bias primarily drives government. For individuals, I think even there there’s some action bias. But nevertheless, for the individual, there is the cost of just going and trying something that’s not very likely to succeed, and the connection with the failure and disappointment, and a lot of things don’t work out.

There’s a lot of people who would like to start their own business, but they don’t try because they have some sense that it’s really hard.

What I see in government is, there isn’t the same kind of filter, which is a big part of my work in general in politics. You don’t have the same kind of personal disincentives against doing things that sound good but actually don’t work out very well in practice.

Probably even bigger than action bias is actually what psychologists call social desirability bias: just doing things that sound good whether or not they actually work very well and not really asking hard questions about whether things that sound good will work out very well in practice.

I also present what I think are the three strongest arguments against Bryan’s “education is mostly signaling” argument — decide for yourself how good his answers are.

And:

COWEN: …Parenting and schooling in your take don’t matter so much. Something is changing these [norms] that is mostly not parenting and not schooling. And they are changing quite a bit, right?

CAPLAN: Yes.

COWEN: Is it like all technology? Is the secret reading of Bryan Caplan that you’re a technological determinist?

CAPLAN: I don’t think so. In general, not a determinist of any kind.

COWEN: I was teasing about that.

And last but not least:

CAPLAN: …When someone gets angry at Robin, this is what actually outrages me. I just want to say, “Look, to get angry at Robin is like getting angry at baby Jesus.” He’s just a symbol and embodiment of innocence and decency. For someone to get angry at someone who just wants to learn . . .

COWEN: And when they get mad at me?

CAPLAN: Eh, I understand that.

Hail Bryan Caplan!  Again here is the link, and of course you should buy his book The Case Against Education.

What to make of Robert Aumann’s “agreement theorem”?

Here is my 2004 paper with Robin, if you need the background, or try this recent Scott Aaronson post.  Recently I was sent a question somewhat along these lines:

If someone blithely continues to disagree with their (apparent) epistemic peers, how much should we downgrade the rationality and/or intelligence and/or integrity of that person.  My answer was:

We can take a dimmer view of them, and should, but also have to take a dimmer view of ourselves, I think. I don’t think the “they” get downgraded relative to “us.”

…let’s say we agree with it [Aumann’s construction] completely. Then it would be true and non-operationalizable, keeping in mind that the smartest people I know — by whatever metric — do not themselves internalize the argument. There is some kind of semi-rational back and forth estimation process, where in part you judge [peer] expertise by the actual views people hold, and iterate accordingly. There is probably no fixed point theorem here, and no single obviously best way to proceed. Maybe we should downgrade those who do not know that. But I don’t know by how much. Maybe not by a lot, since knowing all those complications doesn’t improve one’s own rationality by a whole lot, as far as I can tell.

With a bit more thought, I have come up with a further and more specific answer.

Let’s say you are staying at a hotel, and everyone agrees that the hotel offers room service.  There is also a very good restaurant one hour away, but people strongly disagree on how to find the place.  Half of the people think the restaurant is to the West, and you strongly agree with this group; the other half strongly believe the restaurant is to the East.  If you choose the wrong direction, you will have wasted two hours driving and will have to settle for the room service in any case.

If you buy into Aumann, you should be more likely to start with the room service, even though you strongly believe the restaurant is to the West.

You will note that is a purely self-regarding choice only.  For choices in that category, accepting Aumann means you should be more willing to focus on what everyone agrees is good, possible, beneficial, etc. — you might call this common sense morality.

Alternatively, let’s say it is a choice for all of society, and many other people are pitching in their efforts to some kind of common enterprise — let’s call it politics.

You then have to ask what kind of stupidity you are most likely to expect from the contributing others.  If the relevant bias is excess conformism, I see no special case to take greater care to converge upon what others think is best.  In fact, there might be external benefits from doubling down on your own stubbornness.  You might be wrong a lot of the time, but still it will be truly rare when lots of people are really quite right, and it is important that your voice shine through and be heard in those cases.

So in a nutshell, the implications of Aumann are “common sense morality for yourself, but political orneriness remains on the table.”

How economists became so timid

From Eric A. Posner and E. Glen Weyl, that was then:

Self-styled American and European radicals, for example, helped end monarchy and expand the franchise. The free-labor ideology of European radicals and American Radical Republicans helped abolish serfdom and slavery and establish a new basis for industrial labor relations. The late 18th and 19th centuries also witnessed the liberal reformism of Jeremy Bentham, Smith, James and John Stuart Mill, and the Marquis de Condorcet; the socialist revolutionary ideologies of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Marx; the labor unionism of Beatrice and Sydney Webb; and, influential at the time but now mostly forgotten, the competitive common ownership ideology of Henry George and Léon Walras. This ideology shaped the Progressive movement in the United States, the “New Liberalism” of David Lloyd George in Britain, the radicalism of Georges Clemenceau in France, even the agenda of the Nationalist Chinese revolutionary leader Sun Yat-Sen. The Keynesian and welfare-state reforms of the early 20th century set the stage for the longest and most broadly shared period of growth in human history.

And this is now:

So where are the heirs of the political economists? Political economy has fragmented into a series of disparate fields, none of which has the breadth, creativity, or courage to support the reformist visions that were crucial to navigating past crises.

…Yet even as economists retreated from visionary social theory, the power they wielded over detailed policy decisions grew. A notable feature of this policy guidance was that it shared the narrowness of economists’ research methods. Policy reforms advocated by mainstream economists were almost always what we call “liberal technocratic” — either center-left or center-right. Economists suggested a bit higher or lower minimum wage or interest rate, a bit more or less regulation, depending on their external political orientation and evidence from their research. But they almost never proposed the sort of sweeping, creative transformations that had characterized 19th-century political economy.

How to explain this timidity? As with many professions endowed with power (like the military), economics developed strict codes of internal discipline and conformity to ensure that this power was wielded consistent with community standards…

The upshot is that economics has played virtually no role in all the major political movements of the past half-century, including civil rights, feminism, anticolonialism, the rights of sexual minorities, gun rights, antiabortion politics, and “family values” debates.

There is much more at the link.  I am not sure I have a single endorsement or criticism in response, other than to say that I view MR as, among other things, a fifteen-year running commentary on the economics profession and its ups and downs.  In any case, beware complacency!

And do not forget about the authors’ new and stimulating book Radical Markets.

Hat tip goes to Bonnie Kavoussi.

Anthony Downs on race and urbanism, that was then this is now

It always surprises me that the name of Anthony Downs is not mentioned more often in conjunction with the Nobel Prize in economics.  His An Economic Theory of Democracy is one of the best and most important books on public choice economics, and it is the major source for the median voter theorem. Yet now a new paperback copy of the book is not to be had for less than $100.  Downs also had major contributions to transportation economics (traffic expands to fill capacity) and housing and urban economics and the theory of bureaucracy.

Yesterday I learned that Downs was a major White House consultant on race and urban affairs in 1967, working with James Tobin and Kermit Gordon and other luminaries on the National Commission on Urban Problems.  What they produced fed into what was described as “The Most Courageous Government Report in the Last Decade,” namely the Kerner Commission report.  Here are some details:

1. Downs did much of the work of the commission and much of the actual writing, including of the Kerner Report, including the section on housing policy and the ghetto.

2. He was very concerned with “white flight” and thought a more radical approach to urban poverty was needed.  He thought Great Society programs had not been tried on a large enough scale.

3. In the view of Downs, major progress already had been made, but he worried that aspirations were rising faster than living standards.

4. He spelt out a “status quo approach,” a “ghetto-improvement strategy,” and a “dispersal strategy” based on integration.  He considered the latter the most ambitious and perhaps the most unikely.  He focused on outlining these alternatives, and their benefits and costs, rather than recommending any one of them.

5. Among the specific proposals considered were a Neighborhood Youth Corps, increasing the minimum wage, job training, public service programs, and a federally enforced fair employment-practices bill.  The draft also encouraged policymakers to think about educational vouchers, decentralizing urban school systems, and educational innovation.  There were arguments as to whether teachers’ unions should be held at fault and weakened.

It is striking how little these debates have progressed since more than fifty years ago.

p.s. Many on the right were critical of the report.

This is all from Steven M. Gillon, Separate and Unequal: The Kerner Commission and the Unraveling of American Liberalism.

Why Matthew E. Kahn is optimistic about microeconomics

1.   Applied micro researchers have access to more data than ever and have access to more computing power and more easy to use and sophisticated econometric methods than ever before.   Improved canned software in Stata allows applied researchers to relax many of the statistical assumptions that researchers made in previous years.   Such “robust” estimates allow us to march towards learning the truth.

2.   Due to “natural experiments”, discontinuities, and explicit randomizations, we now have more variation in “cause variables” (the X’s) than ever before.

3.  The advent of Google and the rise of Economics in Europe and outside of Western nations means that the current set of applied micro researchers are aware in “real time” about what findings are emerging in the top 5 journals and NBER and IZA and CEPR working papers.    Now that there are so many applied micro economists working around the world, this competition fosters innovation and progress.

4.  Replication is rising as an important piece of our advance as a “science”.

5.  Leading firms such as Amazon highly value quantitative training.  Undergraduates are aware of this and they are investing in the math/computer programming and economics and stats training to have the option to pursue this.  Some of these young people will opt into doing a PHD in economics and applied micro grows stronger due to this influx of talent.

6.  Thanks to scholars such as Raj Chetty, the power of using administrative data (such as IRS tax data) are now more clearly seen all over the world. I expect that more government officials who “know that they do not know” the answers for unlocking economic development will increasingly partner with the J-PAL and other economists to help them to experiment and learn.  This is Hayek as applied microeconomist at its best.

The rest of his post lists four concerns.

Student-Led Classrooms Waste Teacher Skill

A slew of research shows that direct instruction produces superior results compared to other instructional methods. A new study in the Journal of Labor Economics by Eric Taylor provides more information on how and why. Using a randomized controlled trial, Taylor compares a weak form of direct instruction with student led classrooms in which:

the students are expected to reason through and articulate math concepts with each other,while teachers facilitate conversationsand help students express their thoughtswith a focus on [students] understanding, rather than on students answering problems correctly

He finds that direct instruction results in greater student learning. More importantly, however, he also has data on how well teachers understand math and how to teach math and what he finds is that this knowledge is basically only productive when teachers use direct instruction. In other words, teacher skill only produces results when teachers are assigned a task that uses that skill. Student-led classrooms waste teacher skill and so are less productive.

Hat tip: Jose the (Not) Mediocre.

*The Mind is Flat*

The author is Nick Chater and the subtitle is The Illusion of Mental Depth and the Improvised Mind.  I found this to be one of the most interesting books on the mind I have read.  Overall the message is that your hidden inner life ain’t what you think:

According to our common-sense view, the senses map the outer world into some kind of inner copy, so that, when perceiving a book, table or coffee cup, our minds are conjuring up a shadowy ‘mental’ book, table or coffee cup.  The mind is a ‘mirror’ of nature.  But this can’t be right.  There can’t be a 3D ‘mental copy’ of these objects — because they don’t make sense in 3D.  They are like 3D jigsaw puzzles whose pieces simply don’t fit together.  The mind-as-mirror metaphor can’t possibly be right; we need a very different viewpoint — that perception requires inference.

Take that Thomas Reid!  By the way:

This perspective has a further, intriguing and direct prediction: that we can only count colours slowly and laboriously…the apparent richness of colour is itself a trick — that our brains seem to be able to encode no more than one colour (or shape, or orientation) at a time.  But this is what the data tell us.

Here is perhaps the clincher:

…all of us perceive the world through a remarkably narrow channel — roughly a single word, object, pattern or property at a time.

So much of the rest is the top-down processing function of our minds filling in the gaps.

By the way, if you are told to shake your head up and down, nodding in agreement, while reciting a plausible argument, you will assign a higher truth value to that claim.  And emotion is more a “creation of the moment” rather than “an inner revelation.”  If you cross a dangerous bridge to meet up with a woman, thus raising your adrenalin levels, you are more likely to develop a crush on her, that sort of thing.

I cannot evaluate all of the claims in this book, and indeed I am partly skeptical in light of the rather scanty treatment given to cross-sectional variation across heterogeneous individuals.  Still, the author cites evidence for his major claims and applies reasonable and scientific arguments throughout.  I can definitely recommend this book to those interested in serious popular science treatments of the mind, and it is not simply a rehash of other popular science books on the mind.

The top link above is for U.S. Amazon orders, due out in August, I was very happy to have ordered from AmazonUK.

I believe this book was first recommended to me by Tim Harford.

What if you combined Robin Hanson and German higher education?

Students in Germany rated their curriculum, teaching and job prospects more highly when their universities were labeled “excellent” by the government — even though the award was unrelated to teaching, according to new research.

But this next sentence does not follow:

The results cast further doubt on the reliability of student satisfaction scores, a co-author of the study said.

Here is the full story by David Matthews.

Josh Angrist Joins MRU!

Tyler and I are thrilled that Josh Angrist has agreed to teach a class at MRU, Mastering Econometrics! Josh will be teaching the “Furious Five” of econometrics: random assignment, regression, instrumental variables, regression discontinuity designs, and differences-in-differences methods based, of course, on his great book with Jörn-Steffen Pischke, Mastering Metrics: The Path from Cause to Effect.

Josh’s course is in production and will begin later this year. Join up now to get notified as the course begins.

Modern Principles for principles of economics, Mastering Metrics for econometrics, MRU has it all!

 

A simple question about the signaling model of education

Let’s say, for purposes of argument, that education is 100% signaling, and furthermore let’s assume that the underlying traits of IQ, conscientiousness, and so on are not changing in the population over the relevant period of time.

Now consider a situation where income inequality is rising, at least in the early years of jobs.  Since employers cannot discern worker quality — other than by observing the signal that is — this should imply that getting an education is “more separating” than it used to be.

That in turn has to mean that an education is more rigorous than it used to be.  No, not “getting in” (employers could hire their own admissions officers), I mean getting through.  Finishing successfully is more of a mark of quality than it used to be, because finishing is harder.  Finishing is harder because there is more rigor.

Is this true?