Lesson one in our textbook chapter on managing incentives is “You get what you pay for (even when what you pay for is not exactly what you want)”. Case in point is the California cleanup of the 2017 wildfires, at $280,000 per site it’s four times more expensive than similar past cleanups and by far the costliest cleanup in CA history. The state emphasized speed and farmed the job out to the Army Corp of Engineers who hired contractors who were paid by the ton excavated! Paying by the ton created highly u̶n̶p̶r̶e̶d̶i̶c̶t̶a̶b̶l̶e̶ predictable consequences as KQED reports:
…Dan said he saw workers inflate their load weights with wet mud. Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore said he heard similar stories of subcontractors actually being directed to mix metal that should have been recycled into their loads to make them heavier.
“They [contractors] saw it as gold falling from the sky,” Dan said. “That is the biggest issue. They can’t pay tonnage on jobs like this and expect it to be done safely.”
…Krickl pointed to where his home used to stand. It’s a 6-foot deep depression that he affectionately called his “pond”.
That “pond” was created when contractors removed the foundation, soil and an entire concrete pad for Krickl’s garage, leaving behind a large hole.
Here’s my favorite part:
So many sites were over-excavated that the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services recently launched a new program to refill the holes left behind by Army Corps contractors. That’s estimated to cost another $3.5 million.
Hat tip: Carl D.
My wife and I are the proud (and exhausted) parents of two young sons, and we live in Falls Church, Virginia. Our oldest is “two half” and will be starting a “cooperative” preschool down the street this September. That means we volunteer in his classroom and help run the school—charity auction, field trip transportation, etc.—and in return we save on tuition. It’s a win-win.
Currently, co-oping parents in Virginia must undergo four hours of annual training before they can volunteer in the classroom—basic things like first aid and certain laws relevant to child care. As reported by the Washington Post, however, the Virginia Department of Social Services is considering regulations that would require co-oping parents instead to undergo approximately 30 hours of training—just to help in the classroom a few hours each month, completing daunting tasks like passing out snacks and sweeping the floors.
Here is more from Ilya Shapiro.
Obviously his talents in crypto and programming are well-known, but he is also a first-rate thinker on both economics and what you broadly might call sociology. You could take away the crypto contributions altogether, and he still would be one of the very smartest people I have met. Here is the audio and transcript. The CWT team summarized it as follows:
Tyler sat down with Vitalik to discuss the many things he’s thinking about and working on, including the nascent field of cryptoeconomics, the best analogy for understanding the blockchain, his desire for more social science fiction, why belief in progress is our most useful delusion, best places to visit in time and space, how he picks up languages, why centralization’s not all bad, the best ways to value crypto assets, whether P = NP, and much more.
Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: If you could go back into the distant past for a year, a time and place of your choosing, you have the linguistic skills and immunity against disease to the extent you need it, maybe some money in your pocket, where would you pick to satisfy your own curiosity?
BUTERIN: Where would I pick? To do what? To spend a year there, or . . . ?
COWEN: Spend a year as a “tourist.” You could pick ancient Athens or preconquest Mexico or medieval Russia. It’s a kind of social science fiction, right?
BUTERIN: Yeah, totally. Let’s see. Possibly first year of World War II — obviously, one of those areas that’s close to it but still reasonably safe from it…
Basically, experience more of what human behavior and what collective human behavior would look like once you pushed humans further into extremes, and people aren’t as comfortable as they are today.
I started the whole dialogue with this:
I went back and I reread all of the papers on your home page. I found it quite striking that there were two very important economics results, one based on menu costs associated with the name of Greg Mankiw. Another is a paper on the indeterminacy of monetary equilibrium associated with Fischer Black.
These are famous papers. On your own, you appear to rediscover these results without knowing about the papers at all. So how would you describe how you teach yourself economics?
Highly recommended, whether or not you understand blockchain. Oh, and there is this:
COWEN: If you had to explain blockchain to a very smart person from 40 years ago, who knew computers but had no idea of crypto, what would be the best short explanation you could give them, basically, for what you do?
BUTERIN: Sure. One of the analogies I keep going back to is this idea of a “world computer.” The idea, basically, is that a blockchain, as a whole, functions like a computer. It has a hard drive, and on that hard drive, it stores what all the accounts are.
It stores what the code of all the smart contracts is, what the memory of all these smart contracts is. It accepts incoming instructions — and these incoming instructions are signed transactions sent by a bunch of different users — and processes them according to a set of rules.
Wealthier countries allocate a greater proportion of their workers to science and engineering, fields which produce ideas that often benefit everyone. This is one reason why we all gain when other countries become rich. It’s not just the number of scientists and engineers that matters, however. In a clever paper, Agarwal and Gaule demonstrate that equally talented people are more productive in wealthier countries.
Agarwal and Gaule collect the scores of thousands of teenagers who entered the International Math Olympiad between 1981 and 2000 and they follow their careers. Every additional point earned at the Olympiad increases the likelihood that a participant will later earn a math PhD, be heavily cited, even earn a Fields medal. But Olympians from poorer countries are less likely to contribute to the mathematical frontier than equally talented teens from richer countries. It could be that smart teens from poorer countries are less likely to pursue a math career–and that could well be optimal–but Agarwal and Gaule find that many of the talented kids from poorer countries simply disappear off the world’s radar. Their talent is wasted.
The post-Olympiad loss is not the largest loss. Most of the potentially great mathematicians from poorer countries are lost to the world long before the opportunity to participate in an Olympiad. But it is frustrating that even after talent has been identified, it does not always bloom. We are, however, starting to do better.
You can see from the graph that upper-middle income countries are as good as turning their talent into results as high-income countries. Agarwal and Gaule also find some evidence that the low-income penalty is diminishing over time.
As incomes increase around the world it’s as if the entire world’s processing power is coming online for the first time in human history. That, at least, is one reason for optimism.
Hat tip: Floridan Ederer.
Scientific output is not a linear function of amounts of federal grant support to individual investigators. As funding per investigator increases beyond a certain point, productivity decreases. This study reports that such diminishing marginal returns also apply for National Institutes of Health (NIH) research project grant funding to institutions. Analyses of data (2006-2015) for a representative cross-section of institutions, whose amounts of funding ranged from $3 million to $440 million per year, revealed robust inverse correlations between funding (per institution, per award, per investigator) and scientific output (publication productivity and citation impact productivity). Interestingly, prestigious institutions had on average 65% higher grant application success rates and 50% larger award sizes, whereas less-prestigious institutions produced 65% more publications and had a 35% higher citation impact per dollar of funding. These findings suggest that implicit biases and social prestige mechanisms (e.g., the Matthew effect) have a powerful impact on where NIH grant dollars go and the net return on taxpayers investments. They support evidence-based changes in funding policy geared towards a more equitable, more diverse and more productive distribution of federal support for scientific research. Success rate/productivity metrics developed for this study provide an impartial, empirically based mechanism to do so.
From David Card, Ciprian Domnisoru, and Lowell Taylor, the last few sentences are the most interesting:
We use 1940 Census data to study the intergenerational transmission of human capital for children born in the 1920s and educated during an era of expanding but unequally distributed public school resources. Looking at the gains in educational attainment between parents and children, we document lower average mobility rates for blacks than whites, but wide variation across states and counties for both races. We show that schooling choices of white children were highly responsive to the quality of local schools, with bigger effects for the children of less-educated parents. We then narrow our focus to black families in the South, where state-wide minimum teacher salary laws created sharp differences in teacher wages between adjacent counties. These differences had large impacts on schooling attainment, suggesting an important causal role for school quality in mediating upward mobility.
This result is not logically inconsistent with the signalling model, but I think it fits more readily into the human capital story. If you think employers cannot easily distinguish between different qualities of worker (without the educational signal, that is), probably you also should think employers cannot distinguish among the quality of adjacent schools on the basis of what they pay their teachers in relative terms. And in that case, the schools hiring the better teachers are probably increasing the productivity of their students.
For the pointer I thank the excellent Samir Varma.
By Michael Lovenheim and Alexander Willén:
Teacher collective bargaining is a highly debated feature of the education system in the US. This paper presents the first analysis of the effect of teacher collective bargaining laws on long-run labor market and educational attainment outcomes, exploiting the timing of passage of duty-tobargain laws across cohorts within states and across states over time. Using American Community Survey data linked to each respondent’s state of birth, we examine labor market outcomes and educational attainment for 35-49 year olds, separately by gender. We find robust evidence that exposure to teacher collective bargaining laws worsens the future labor market outcomes of men: in the first 10 years after passage of a duty-to-bargain law, male earnings decline by $2,134 (or 3.93%) per year and hours worked decrease by 0.42 hours per week. The earnings estimates for men indicate that teacher collective bargaining reduces earnings by $213.8 billion in the US annually. We also find evidence of lower male employment rates, which is driven by lower labor force participation. Exposure to collective bargaining laws leads to reductions in the skill levels of the occupations into which male workers sort as well. Effects are largest among black and Hispanic men. Estimates among women are often confounded by secular trend variation, though we do find suggestive evidence of negative impacts among nonwhite women. Using data from the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, we demonstrate that collective bargaining laws lead to reductions in measured non-cognitive skills among young men.
Heaven forbid that grading should occur on a common scale with strong safeguards against cheating. This missive is from Princeton:
On July 5, the University dropped the need for applicants to submit an essay score from the SAT or ACT. Beginning this 2018-2019 application season, applicants will, instead, have to submit a graded high school writing sample, preferably a work either of English or history.
In a , the University said that this new policy shift “aims to alleviate the financial hardship placed on students, including those who have the opportunity to take the test without writing during the school day and for free.”
Due to the asymmetry of fame I feel that I know you quite well so I am just going to bombard you with random questions and hope that you see fit to answer some of them.
You seem to value journalism very highly. Is it just out of necessity as a generalist, or does popular writing on a topic have important information that can’t be learned from the academic/scholarly side?
Journalists have to try to explain things that actually happened to other human beings, often educated ones but not specialists either. It is hard to overrate the importance of that process to developing one’s thoughts and self, no matter what you may think of particular journalists in today’s MSM.
Related: Which elite profession or slice of society is most opaque to journalists and “book-learning” in general? (Oddly some of the categories that come to mind are those which are some of the most written-about – food, sex, friends, law, politics. But it’s probably maths.)
Making things. Archaeology. These days, tech. Maths. Journalism.
How much less interesting would it be to read Shakespeare if no-one else ever had? Does the answer differ much across top-tier “great” artists?
It would not be less interesting at all, maybe more interesting, because the shock of discovery would be all the greater. Admittedly, many artists require lots of discussion with other people, maybe rock and roll most of all? But not Shakespeare.
Overrated vs underrated: The New Yorker. How about Samin Nosrat?
The New Yorker has had a consistent voice and remarkable brand for more decades than I can remember (I recall Patrick Collison making a similar point, perhaps in a podcast?). Since I am now above the median age for the United States, that makes them underrated. The literariness of the historical New York and Northeast and the integration of American and European culture also have become underrated topic areas, and The New Yorker still does them, so that too makes the magazine underrated.
And who is Samin Nosrat? She must therefore be underrated.
Does the world have too many writers, or not enough? What about comparative literature professors? How should we think about the future of literary culture when the written word is becoming so much more culturally dominant at the same time as books and journalism are falling apart?
What variable are we changing at the margin? If people watch less TV and write more, that is probably a plus. I also would favor fewer photographs and more writing. But I wouldn’t cut back on charity to increase the quantity of writing. If only comparative literature professors were people who simply loved books — at the margin a bit more like used book store owners and somewhat less like professors — and would compare them to each other…then I would want more of them. Until then, I don’t know how to keep the extra ones busy.
Why does the USA not have open borders with Canada?
I believe America should have open borders with any nation that has a more generous welfare state than we do. That covers Canada, even though Canadian insurance coverage for mental health and dentistry isn’t nearly as good as you might think. As to why we don’t have open borders with Canada, I don’t think American voters would see that as solving any concrete problem (can’t we get many of the best Canadians anyway?), and it would feel a bit like giving up control, so why do it?
To what extent are Trump, Brexit, Orban, Erdogan, rising murder rates and stalling trade growth worldwide part of the same phenomenon? If they aren’t completely separate, which way does the contagion run?
Yes, no, and maybe so, get back to me in a few years’ time.
Have a great day…
In 2000, 55 percent of American playgrounds had seesaws, but only 7 percent did by 2004.
The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation claims it has not installed a new one, except by special request, in over thirty years. There are now only a few seesaws left in the city.
(TC: As a child, I never had an interest in those infernal things, which seemed to me dangerous and not much fun.)
Most of the “monkey bars” in NYC had been installed by master builder Robert Moses, between 1934 and 1960.
Between 2001 and 2008, about two hundred thousand American children sustained playground injuries, 36 percent of them being broken bones.
That said, Helle Nebelong, a Danish landscape architect, argues that too much uniformity in the environment of children creates other risks, because they come to expect the whole world will be smooth and predictable. Nature, in particular, is not.
In 1949, “junk” playgrounds were a trend. They often had paint, nails, and many kinds of secondhand building materials.
The first edition of the Handbook for Public Playground Safety appeared in 1981.
That is all from the new and interesting The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids, by Alexandra Lange.
If you have co-authored with me, perhaps you have noticed that occasionally I leave the word “grib” inside a Microsoft Word document. That is simply a marker for where I left off work and wish to resume. You will notice that if you enter “grib” into a document search, you are unlikely to pick up any other word that has “grib” in the middle of it, and so you will arrive right to this bookmark.
And if you find yourself adding too many “gribs,” because you have left off work at too many places, only never to return, you can deploy “gribb” to express a higher level of urgency. Your search for “gribb” will not pick up any of your “grib” markers, of course, though your search for “grib” will refer you to “gribb” too.
I do recognize that the productivity gain here is small. And much of that gain simply may come from the feeling that “I have a system” rather than from the properties of the system itself.
Happy Fourth of July! (grib)
Juan is sometimes considered the world’s greatest hitchhiker, and this was one of my favorite installments in the series. We talked about “the joys of connecting with people, why it’s so hard to avoid stereotypes (including of hitchhikers), how stamp collecting guides his trips, the darkest secrets of people he’s gotten rides from, traveling and writing books with his wife, the cause of violence in the Americas, finding the emotional heart of a journey, where he’s going next…” and which country has the most beautiful women (and men). And why Colombia and Transnistria are two of his favorite places to visit.
Here is the transcript and audio.
Here is one excerpt:
VILLARINO: As a rule of thumb, I always like to say that you stop cars with your smile and not with your thumb. There are actually a lot of things you could do to improve your chances of getting a lift.
It’s not like go there, stick out your thumb, and get a ride. Definitely, smiling as a car is passing — it’s a really important thing. Then there are very subtle things that people wouldn’t guess that have an impact, and they do…
For example, a driver has on average three seconds to decide whether he’s going to stop or not. He sees you, he’s driving maybe 80 miles an hour, and you suddenly pop out. There are a lot of things going on unconsciously through his mind to decide whether he’s going to stop or not. You have only these seconds to convey any message of trust, and so you have to do things.
For example, one is smiling. The other one is, when you manage to get eye contact, then I reinforce. Let’s say, I’m showing my thumb, but I also switch my hand signal and point it to the direction in which I’m going as I’m smiling. This makes a more personalized link over the general link you are already doing, which is thumbing.
Then the way you are dressed, the way your backpack is positioned . . .
VILLARINO: Oh, yeah. Scandinavia.
COWEN: Those countries have plenty of cars. Why are they so slow?
VILLARINO: That’s amazing. To be hitchhiking in Scandinavia, you see all this row of Volvo cars passing you by [laughs] and they will never ever stop.
I had talked to a Swedish friend of mine, and she just said, “Yeah, I wouldn’t stop either,” she said, “because it’s so cheap and affordable to have a car. Then if someone is hitchhiking and doesn’t have a car, you would think he has second intentions or something wrong is going on here.”
COWEN: Would you describe yourself as a workaholic hitchhiker?
VILLARINO: Yes. [laughs] I am. People would be so surprised to see how much time there is involved on the backstage behind the screen because you hitchhike, you have books, and you have a blog. The blog is so time consuming.
Juan had the very best answer I thought as to why the New World is more violent than the Old World, overall. It starts with this:
VILLARINO: Probably because in our evolution as territories, we have had violence as a part of it much more recently in the timeline. We were conquered by means of powder. I think that’s probably in the genetic of our culture. I hope not.
Strongly recommended, and I hope to read and see more of Juan in the future.
The results overall refute the hypothesis of growing cultural divides. With few exceptions, the extent of cultural distance has been broadly constant over time.
The data also show that:
1. From to 1995, the time use behavior of women and men converged a good deal, but not since then.
2. Differences in social attitudes by political ideology and income have increased since the 1970s. The rich and the poor have diverged the most in terms of their attitudes toward law enforcement.
3. Whites and non-whites “have converged somewhat on social attitudes but have diverged in consumer behavior.”
4. “Nevertheless, our headline result is that for all other demographic divisions and cultural dimensions, cultural distance has been broadly constant over time.” For instance, the media consumption gap between rich and poor has not been growing.
5. “The brand most predictive of top income in 1992 is Grey Poupon Dijon mustard. By 2004, the brand most indicative of the rich is Land O’Lakes butter, followed by Kikkoman soy sauce. By the end of the sample, ownership of Apple products (iPhone and iPad) tops the list. Knowing whether someone owns an iPad in 2016 allows us to guess correctly whether the person is in the top or bottom income quartile 69 percent of the time. Across all years in our data, no individual brand is as predictive of being high-income as owning an Apple iPhone in 2016.”
6. Voting and “trusting people” are among the “social attitudes” that best predict being rich.
7. Education is matched about as tightly to social attitudes now as it was in 1976.
8. “By 2016, watching Love It or List It and Property Brothers, both HGTV shows, were the most indicative of being educated.” [TC: yikes!]
9. Since the 1990s, there has been no divergence in the TV shows watched by liberals and conservatives. Note that in 2001, the three TV shows that best predicted ideology were The Academy Awards, Will and Grace, and Friends, all liberal. Nowadays it’s Fox shows, all conservative.
10. Liberals are more likely to drink alcohol, conservatives are more likely to go fishing.
11. Maybe this is the most important result: since 1976 there has not been much divergence between liberal and conservative attitudes toward civil liberties or law enforcement. The divergence on government spending is noticeable but not enormous (see p.39). the divergence on “Marriage, Sex, Abortion” is quite large. In another words, the true polarization is happening across gender issues, as I’ve argued numerous times in the past.
12. Here are related important results on the cultural divide. When will MSM articles catch up to the data?
When Rokhaia Naassan gives birth in the coming days, she and her baby boy will enter a new category in the eyes of Danish law. Because she lives in a low-income immigrant neighborhood described by the government as a “ghetto,” Rokhaia will be what the Danish newspapers call a “ghetto parent” and he will be a “ghetto child.”
Starting at the age of 1, “ghetto children” must be separated from their families for at least 25 hours a week, not including nap time, for mandatory instruction in “Danish values,” including the traditions of Christmas and Easter, and Danish language. Noncompliance could result in a stoppage of welfare payments. Other Danish citizens are free to choose whether to enroll children in preschool up to the age of six.
Denmark’s government is introducing a new set of laws to regulate life in 25 low-income and heavily Muslim enclaves, saying that if families there do not willingly merge into the country’s mainstream, they should be compelled.
That is from Ellen Barry and Martin Selsoe Sorensen at the NYT, interesting throughout. It seems pretty clear that “culture wars” — in various forms — are the big political issue for some time to come.
Gregory I. emails me:
- Can being “uncivil” be useful for advancing aims we should agree with as moral in contemporary America? Elsewhere or “else-when” perhaps?
- If yes, then where and how to be “uncivil” effectively?
- Is engaging in aggressive or what can be read as aggressive social media posting sometimes good, contrary to what we’re usually counseled? (“Aggressive” here not including threats, but stating views in forthright ways with facts, arguments and yes even possibly profanity).
- Could more exposure to “uncivil” behavior be or be made beneficial overall, primarily by making us all realize we should be more suspicious of our feelings of offense?
- Have “political correctness” and what Cass Sunstein called “patriotic correctness” (thank you for this article recommendation on MR) really moved what should be in civil discourse into conversations that can now almost always be counted on being characterized as “uncivil” and thus require us to be rude to address them?
I’ll take them by number.
#1: In the past, not being civil has at times led to the eventual de-platforming of disliked adversaries. For instance, the tactics of 1960s radicals did indeed draw the attention of the American public to various norms, which eventually the American public decided to find mostly unacceptable. It is much harder today to be a mainstream representative of racism, outright chauvinism, the Vietnam War, napalm, and so on, with some obvious exceptions. Not all of the opponents of slavery were civil either, at least not always.
But today? We’ve already seen big swings toward Trumpism and other forms of backlash, and many of those forces are courting incivility as a noxious brew, fit for their recipes of divisiveness. And the Left is picking more issues that, whatever you think of them, don’t have as much upside with the American public, such as say bathrooms in North Carolina or the abolition of all profit. The Left is a lot “less cool” than it likes to think, which militates in favor of civility, if for no other than tactical reasons. Plus civility is a virtue in its own right, at least at the relevant margin.
#2: If you are looking to be uncivil, look for an issue where history is clearly on your side (predictively as well as normatively), and to that issue devote uncivil people who aren’t much good for anything else, as these days reputations are more permanent than before. Pick issues that just aren’t getting good attention at all, or in other words shy away from the hot button items in your Twitter feed. Your choice should seem counterintuitive to a fair number of the people you know, including those on your side.
#3: Social media are almost the worst possible venue for being uncivil. It’s like pissing into the ocean, and furthermore you often encourage a stronger reaction from the other side. “Mobilizing a posse” on social media may or may not be effective, but I view that as distinct from being uncivil per se. Being pointed and specific is often the best way to drum up the posse, and in turn some of the posse members, for better or worse, will end up being uncivil. If you are reading MR in the first place, very likely there is a better role for you in all of this than being a marginal, uncivil posse member. Calling for uncivility is in a fundamental way expressing your own low expectations for those you are advising.
But the worst? Driving a public figure out of a restaurant may seem like fun, but in fact they don’t know at which point you are planning on stopping. You’re coming pretty close to threatening them with violent aggression, and there are very very few situations where such actions will end up improving the world as a whole. There is no better venue for politeness than commerce.
#4: When people are uncivil, and organized into groups too, they are stupider. You too. That is perhaps the biggest reason to avoid uncivility, no matter how much you think your chosen exception will lead to beneficial outcomes. Can you not find beneficial paths of influence which do not involve making people stupider? If not, what does that say about you?
#5: Both the left and the right are major offenders when it comes to both incivility and political correctness in the bad sense. I don’t quite follow every part of this question, but in closing I’ll suggest some simple rules of thumb for proper civility:
a. Don’t say anything on-line that you wouldn’t say to a person face-to-face. (And I really do hope this constrains you.)
b. Don’t ever think that an analogy with Nazis justifies your behavior, even if it is your behavior toward…Nazis.
c. Don’t lose your cool. Always trying to sound more intelligent than those you are arguing against is not a terrible starting point.
d. Don’t deploy what I call “loose adjectives,” the most common one being “stupid,” another being “dangerous.” You probably write with too many adjectives anyway.
e. Criticize the idea, not the person. Don’t presume you have such a wonderful sense of the motives of those you disagree with.
g. Reexamine your writings and try to roughly measure the ratio of positive sentiments to negative sentiments. If that number is not ten to one or higher, reassess what you are doing.