Category: Education

Is the reversal of the Flynn Effect environmental?

Maybe so, says a new paper by Bernt Bratsberg and Ole Rogeberg:

Using administrative register data with information on family relationships and cognitive ability for three decades of Norwegian male birth cohorts, we show that the increase, turning point, and decline of the Flynn effect can be recovered from within-family variation in intelligence scores. This establishes that the large changes in average cohort intelligence reflect environmental factors and not changing composition of parents, which in turn rules out several prominent hypotheses for retrograde Flynn effects.

In short, IQ relates inversely to sibling order, and the basic effect is not being generated by a changing composition of married pairs over time.

In other words, we have started building a more stupidity-inducing environment.  Or at least the Norwegians have.  But of course the retrograde Flynn Effect is starting to pop up in the data more generally, and not just in Norway.  From The Times of London:

The IQ scores of young people have begun to fall after rising steadily since the Second World War, according to the first authoritative study of the phenomenon.

The decline, which is equivalent to at least seven points per generation, is thought to have started with the cohort born in 1975, who reached adulthood in the early Nineties.

Have a nice day!

For the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

We will never disapprove of current levels of animal cruelty

Not fundamentally, no.  However terrible our current treatment of animals may be, most of us don’t seem to mind very much, and I suppose that is consistent with what a Darwinian theory would predict.  Here are a few facts about the sociologically specific nature of vegetarianism:

  1. The majority of vegans are female in gender: e.g., 74% in USA [27], 66% in Germany [39] and 63% in UK [29];

  2. They tend to be liberal-leftist politically: in USA, we have a 52% of liberals versus a 14% of conservatives and a 34% of self-styled “neutral” [27];

  3. They are generally more educated than carnists (e.g., Ipsos Mori [29] for UK and Mensik et al. for Germany [39]);

  4. They are more likely to be found in urban than country areas, with prevalence in big cities (e.g., Ipsos Mori [29] for UK, Roy Morgan Research for Australia [49] and Mensik et al. for Germany [39]);

  5. They display an inclination to secular/atheist views on religion matters (e.g., Humane Research Council [27], where it is shown that about half of the American community of vegans/vegetarians is not religious—a percentage that is considerably higher than that of the general population).

Less predictable may be the fact that a rather high percentage of vegans/vegetarians revert to carnism after a certain amount of time (in US, according to Humane Research Council [27], 2% of the respondents were vegans/vegetarians, while no less than 10% were former vegans/vegetarians)…

Not by chance, of the mentioned 10%, one third dropped the lifestyle after 3 months or less, one half within a year, and therefore only less than 20% “resisted” for more than a year.

That is from a recent article by Dario Martinelli and Aušra Berkmanienė.  It seems, by the way, that Israel is the country with the highest measured percentage of vegans.  Is that because it is a way of keeping semi-kosher without quite admitting one is doing so?

Artificial meat?  Yes, yes I know.  But we already have cauliflower, and drenched in yogurt sauce and green cardamom pods and garam masala that is quite delicious, and yet it doesn’t seem to matter.  Vegetarian food in India already tastes better than most meat dishes consumed in the United States.

Hat tip goes to Rolf Degen.

More on the Education Tax

In my post, The Education Tax Reduces Inequality and the Incentive to Work, I illustrated how the high cost of college combined with income based pricing have turned education pricing into a tax with potentially significant effects on work and savings incentives. David Henderson pointed me to a paper by Martin Feldstein in 1992, College Scholarship Rules and Private Saving which states the issues very well.

This paper examines the effect of existing college scholarship rules on the incentive to save. The analysis shows that families that are eligible for college scholarships face “education tax rates” on capital income of between 22 percent and 47 percent in addition to regular slate and federal income taxes. The scholarship rules also impose an annual tax on previously accumulated assets. Through the combination of the implied tax on capital income and the associated tax on previously accumulated assets, the scholarship rules that apply to a middle-income family reduce the value of an extra dollar of accumulated assets by 30 cents in four years. A similar family with two children who attend college in succession will see an initial dollar of assets reduced to 50 cents. Such capital levies of 30 to 50 percent are a strong incentive not to save for college expenses but to rely instead on financial assistance and even on regular market borrowing, Moreover, since any funds saved for retirement are also subject to these education capital levies. the scholarship rules discourage retirement saving as well as saving for education. The empirical analysis developed here, based on the 1986 Survey of Consumer Finances, implies that these incentives do have a powerful effect on the actual accumulation of financial assets. More specifically, the estimated parameter values imply that the scholarship rules induce a typical household with a head aged 45 years old, with two precollege children, and with income of $40,000 a year to reduce accumulated financial assets by $23,124 approximately 50 percent of what would have been accumulated without the adverse effect of the scholarship rules.

Dick and Edlin made a similar point in 1997 but, as far as I can tell, there have been only a handful of papers on this issue since that time. The cost of college, however, is about twice as high today as in the 1980s and price discrimination is much more extensive so the effects are likely larger today.

My Conversation with David Brooks

David was in top form, and I feel this exchange reflected his core style very well, here is the audio and transcript.

We covered why people stay so lonely, whether the Amish are happy, life in Italy, the Whig tradition, the secularization thesis, the importance of covenants, whether Judaism or Christianity has a deeper reading of The Book of Exodus, whether Americans undervalue privacy, Bruce Springsteen vs. Bob Dylan, whether our next president will be a boring manager, and last but not least the David Brooks production function.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Walt Whitman, not only as a poet, but as a foundational thinker for America. Overrated or underrated?

BROOKS: I’d have to say slightly overrated.

COWEN: Tell us why.

BROOKS: I think his spirit and his energy sort of define America. His essay “Democratic Vistas” is one of my favorite essays. It captures both the vulgarity of America, but the energy and especially the business energy of America. But if we think the rise of narcissism is a problem in our society, Walt Whitman is sort of the holy spring there.

[laughter]

COWEN: Socrates, overrated or underrated?

BROOKS: [laughs] This is so absurd.

[laughter]

BROOKS: With everybody else it’s like Breaking Bad, overrated or underrated? I got Socrates.

[laughter]

BROOKS: I will say Socrates is overrated for this reason. We call them dialogues. But really, if you read them, they’re like Socrates making a long speech and some other schmo saying, “Oh yes. It must surely be so, Socrates.”

[laughter]

BROOKS: So it’s not really a dialogue, it’s just him speaking with somebody else affirming.

COWEN: And it’s Plato reporting Socrates. So it’s Plato’s monologue about a supposed dialogue, which may itself be a monologue.

BROOKS: Yeah. It was all probably the writers.

And on Milton Friedman:

BROOKS: I was a student at the University of Chicago, and they did an audition, and I was socialist back then. It was a TV show PBS put on, called Tyranny of the Status Quo, which was “Milton talks to the young.” So I studied up on my left-wing economics, and I went out there to Stanford. I would make my argument, and then he would destroy it in six seconds or so. And then the camera would linger on my face for 19 or 20 seconds, as I tried to think of what to say.

And it was like, he was the best arguer in human history, and I was a 22-year-old. It was my TV debut — you can go on YouTube. I have a lot of hair and big glasses. But I will say, I had never met a libertarian before. And every night — we taped for five days — every night he took me and my colleagues out to dinner in San Francisco and really taught us about economics.

Later, he stayed close to me. I called him a mentor. I didn’t become a libertarian, never quite like him, but a truly great teacher and a truly important influence on my life and so many others. He was a model of what an academic economist should be like.

Recommended.  (And I actually thought David did just fine in that early exchange with Friedman.)

The Education Tax Reduces Inequality and the Incentive to Work

At the NYTimes David Leonhardt breaks families down into six income classes from the poor to the very affluent, defined as follows:

Using a tuition calculator he then estimates tuition (including room and board) by income class at 32 colleges and universities (see below–the darker dots indicate the richer income classes). At many private colleges and universities it is not unusual for some students to be paying $70,000 per year while others pay less than $5,000, for exactly the same education. (Tyler and I provide some similar data on college price discrimination in Modern Principles.) Leonhardt’s point is that a poor student can afford an expensive education and might actually save money by going to an elite private university rather than to a state college.

Price discrimination in education has two other, less recognized, consequences. It reduces income inequality and it reduces the incentive to work. If every firm charged twice as much to someone who earned twice as much, there would no consumption inequality despite high measured income inequality. The rich don’t pay more than the poor when they buy the same basket of goods at the grocery store but they do pay much more for the same education.The Affluent pay approximately $70 thousand for education at the colleges Leonhardt examines while the Upper-Middle pay about half that. The effect on inequality is significant for families with kids in college. An Affluent person is 52% richer than an Upper-Middle income person (186/122=1.52) but an Affluent person with a kid in college is only 33% richer than an Upper-Middle income person with a kid in college (((186-70)/(122-35)=1.33). Shockingly, an Affluent person with two kids in college is actually poorer than an Upper-Middle income person with two kids in college! ((186-140)/(122-70)=0.88.

Under income-based pricing the education tax becomes an income tax with all the negative aspects of income taxes on behavior such as diminished work incentives. Let’s take a closer look at an Upper-Middle income parent earning $122 thousand per year. If this parent gets a promotion or takes on extra work that bumps their salary by $64 thousand, they move from being Upper-Middle income to Affluent. At least on paper. At an income of $122 thousand the parent will be paying approximately $35 thousand to send their child to college but at $186 thousand they will have to pay $70 thousand for the same college so the increase in salary of $64 thousand is an effective increase of only $29 thousand. If the Upper-Middle income parent has two children in college, earning more money actually results in a net loss. For an Upper-Middle income family with two kids spaced in age a few years apart the education tax could be a very severe work disincentive for up to a decade.

The education tax is a peculiar tax as it is often paid to private organizations rather than to the government but it is still a tax and for those of Upper-Middle income the education tax is a very significant tax.

The consequences of the education tax on inequality and work incentives are neither well studied nor well understood.

Is surfing the internet dead?

I saw a few people asking this on Twitter lately, but my views don’t quite fit into a tweet.  Ten to fifteen years ago, I remember the joys of just finding things, clicking links through to other links, and in general meandering through a thick, messy, exhilarating garden.

Today you can’t do that as much.  Many media sites are gated, a lot of the personal content is in the walled garden of Facebook, and blogs and personal home pages are not as significant as before.  Then there is the email subscription newsletter, whether free or paid.  All you can do in fact is visit www.marginalrevolution.com and a few other sites and hope their proprietors have not been sleeping since you last stopped by.

That said, I do not feel that time on the internet has become an inferior experience.  It’s just that these days you find most things by Twitter.  You don’t have to surf, because this aggregator performs a surfing-like function for you.  Scroll rather than surf, you could say (“scrolling alone,” said somebody on Twitter).

And if you hate Twitter, it is your fault for following the wrong people (try hating yourself instead!).  Follow experts and people of substance, not people who seek to lower the status of others.  And if you’re really feeling the internet to be rather empty, head on over to Twitter search, still the most underrated single thing on the internet today (the MR search function is another underrated corner of the internet).  Type in words of interest, such as “Ethiopia,” and what comes up will be gold.

It’s a different method today, and it uses a more centralized portal, but no the internet is not in decline.  Not yet at least.

Michael Nielsen, standing on one foot

A highly sophisticated MR reader demanded a dose of Michael Nielsen.  I wrote to Michael, and he was kind enough to oblige.  Everything that follows is from Michael, here goes:

I started with the question “What might amuse Tyler?”, and it became very easy.

Three opinions that may amuse MR readers:

1. Peter Thiel has said: “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 (280) characters.” Thiel is wrong: 280 characters are much, much better than flying cars. Twitter is misunderstood as being an online service; it’s merely the online component of a much improved offline experience. Twitter DM’s are a superpower, one of the most valuable ways of connecting people ever invented. More on one way of using Twitter here.

2. Movies are primarily a visual form; movie criticism and the popular conversation about movies are primarily a literary form, and informed by literary sensibilities. This is why good movies such as Transformers are so underrated. People who dismiss such movies are mostly revealing their own ignorance.

3. Many corners of the internet have a culture of judgement or argument. Typical subtexts in online conversation are: is this good or bad? What’s wrong with it? But until and unless healthy conversational norms are formed, argument and judgement are mostly useless status-seeking by participants. Much better is a “Yes, and” culture.

Three books or papers which should be better known:

1. Elinor Ostrom’s book Governing the Commons.  Ostrom dismantles the market / government dichotomy, sketching out ways common pool resources (and, to some extent, public goods) can be provided using non-market, non-government solutions.

2. Alex Tabarrok’s paper introducing dominant assurance contracts. Cryptocurrencies have huge potential as a way of creating entirely new types of market, using ideas like this. This potential is mostly unrealized to date.

3. Bret Victor on Media for Thinking the Unthinkable.

Blog posts don’t really get going until about 5,000 words in. Here are three favourites of mine:

1. Thought as a Technology, on how imaginative designers invent fundamentally new modes of thought.

2. If correlation doesn’t imply causation, then what does?

3. Using Artificial Intelligence to Augment Human Intelligence (with Shan Carter).

Despite the fact I’m well short of 5,000 words, I’ll stop here.

You can follow Michael on Twitter here.

Has there been progress in philosophy?

You know this old debate: why are we still reading Plato?  Haven’t they figured out free will yet?  Will they ever?  Don’t the philosophers obsess too much over very old texts?

My opinion is that there is significant and ongoing progress in philosophy, we just don’t always name it as such.  Here is a list of just a few breakthroughs in our philosophic understanding of the world, noting that part of our philosophic maturation is not to care so much anymore as to whether it is called philosophy:

1. Behavioral economics and much of cognitive psychology.

2. A much improved understanding of entropy, information, and information theory.

3. A much better understanding of human neurodiversity and its import..

4. The accumulated wisdom concerning cultural differences and similarities, as taken from anthropological investigations.  You will note that like many recent advances in philosophy, this cannot be found in any one single place.

5. Progress on cosmology and “the theory of everything” and even if you are cynical about the current state of affairs it is far better than say 1850.

6. A deeper understanding of the power and also limits of mathematics.

7. Having digested and then also spit out much of Freudian analysis, but we did learn something along the way.

8. The more philosophical sides of neuroscience, some of which of course are discussed by professional philosophers too.

9. A better understanding of man’s relation to the (non-human) animals.

10. Many ways of thinking about the environment — not all of them correct — have flowered only in relatively recent times.

11. Economics, and what we have learned from economic imperialism, including its failures.

12. Singapore, and in fact most other places/polities in the world.

13. Most literary works are understood much better today than they were in earlier eras.

14. Musical languages are far better developed and better understood.

15. Development of an “internet way of thinking.”

16. Much greater incorporation of the insights of women into philosophy, and many other formerly underrepresented groups too.

So our philosophic understanding of the world is far, far deeper than it was in the time of the so-called classic philosophers, whoever you might take those to be.  If “philosophy” has advanced by collaborating with other disciplines and the sciences, so much the better, and most of the “great philosophers” themselves would have approved of this.  And of course that list of sixteen items could be much, much longer.

My Conversation with Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Interesting throughout, so interesting I don’t feel the need to give you an excerpt, here is the audio and transcript.  There is no other conversation with Taleb which places his ideas in the proper context, as far as I am aware.  At the end of the conversation, just keep on scrolling, Taleb starts up with Bryan Caplan for an hour, mostly on education.  Here is the link for the Caplan segment only.

Against Foreign Language Education

Bryan Caplan is on fire in this excellent podcast with Robert Wiblin of 80,000 hours:

Bryan Caplan: In the U.S. I’ve heard so many times – I learned Latin and it really improved my score on the SAT because of all the Latin roots of the English vocabulary words. How about you learn some English vocabulary words, wouldn’t that be a little easier?

Robert Wiblin: I’m just… I’m pulling out my hair here.

Bryan Caplan: Well if you wanna pull out your hair a little bit more. Out of all my ultra moderate reforms that I suggested, the one that I stand behind more strongly than any other is abolishing foreign language requirements in the United States. Because there, we’ve got a bunch of facts, which are: hardly any jobs use foreign languages, it takes a lot of time to get any good. And furthermore, in this book I’m able to go and snap together a bunch of pieces of data to show that virtually zero Americans claim to… even claim to speak a foreign language very well in school.

So I say, look, even if it did have these big payoffs, the system is just a waste of time, and people spend years doing it for nothing. And even here, I just run against a brick wall and people say, well in that case we should just improve the teaching of the foreign language.

Well, how about you do that and then get back to me, but continuing to fund the thing that we have, this is garbage!

And again, Washington state from what I understand, now allows kids to use a computer language in place of foreign language. Like, why not do that? Then it’s like, “No, no we need to do both.” People don’t have an unlimited amount of time, and shouldn’t teenagers be able to have a frigging childhood! Like how much of their childhood do you want to destroy with jumping through these stupid hoops?

As someone who was educated in Canada I can attest to the waste of much foreign language instruction. I had at least 6 years of instruction in French but my French today is perhaps on par with two or three days worth of Berlitz and that mostly because I’ve been to France a few times. For reasons of national unity and ideology, almost all Canadians have years of French instruction but most of the little of what is learned is quickly forgotten. Looking at bilingual cereal boxes is not enough to maintain skill. If you are French in Quebec there are good reasons to learn English but outside of Quebec there are few reasons to learn French. As a result, the large majority of bilingual speakers are native French speakers (plus a few budding politicians). Indeed, among the Canadians who speak English there could well be more Hindi or Chinese bilinguists than French bilinguists.

Don’t make the mistake of arguing that knowing a second language has many benefits. The point is that foreign language instruction in schools doesn’t teach a second language.

Addendum: And don’t forget this.

The Cultural Divide

That is the title of a new and very important paper by Klaus Desmet and Romain Wacziarg, here is the abstract:

This paper conducts a systematic quantitative study of cultural convergence and divergence in the United States over time. Using the General Social Survey (1972-2016), we assess whether cultural values have grown more or less heterogeneous, both overall and between groups. Groups are defined according to 11 identity cleavages such as gender, religion, ethnic origin, family income quintiles, geographic region, education levels, etc. We find some evidence of greater overall heterogeneity after 1993 when averaging over all available values, yet on many issues heterogeneity changes little. The level of between-group heterogeneity is extremely small: the United States is very pluralistic in terms of cultural attitudes and values, but this diversity is not primarily the result of cultural divides between groups. On average across cleavages and values, we find evidence of falling between-group heterogeneity from 1972 to the late 1990s, and growing divides thereafter…

This, from the paper, is also illuminating:

For some questions, such as several questions on sexual behavior and public policies, there is growing social consensus. For others, such as questions on gun laws and confidence in some civic institutions, we find growing disagreements. Some of these dynamics can be understood as transitions from one end of the belief spectrum to the other. For instance, on the issue of marijuana legalization, attitudes have moved from generalized disagreement to majority agreement, so heterogeneity rose and is now falling. Overall, we find some evidence of a systematic tendency toward greater heterogeneity after 1993 when averaging over all available memes, yet on many issues heterogeneity changes little.

By the way, “urbanicity” shows “declining levels of cultural fixation,” contrary to what you often read.

Overall I take this to be an optimistic set of results.

Kenneth Arrow, weather officer

Following the U.S. declaration of war on December 8, 1941, Arrow, who was certain to be drafted, enlisted in the hope of securing an officer’s commission in the U.S. Army Corps where he believed he would have a chance to use his mathematical and statistical training.  He was quickly approved to attend an aviation training program at New York University in October 1942, taking “active duty” breaks from classes for rifle drill, which he and his colleagues thought rather silly.   Nonetheless, he came out of that program in September 1943 commissioned as a weather officer with the rank of second lieutenant and was assigned to a weather research facility in Asheville, North Carolina; in July 1945 he was transferred to the weather division headquarters of the Army Air Force.  It was during that time in Asheville that he wrote a memorandum that later, in 1949, became his first professional paper (“On the Use of Winds in Flight Planning” in the Journal of Meteorology).  That paper presented an algorithm for taking advantage of winds aloft to save fuel on North Atlantic air crossings, an idea that was not acted upon by the military at that time but became the canonical practice for North Atlantic flight paths in the postwar period.

That is from the new, excellent, and consistently interesting Finding Equilibrium: Arrow, Debreu, McKenzie and the Problem of Scientific Credit, by Till Düppe and E. Roy Weintraub.  Unlike many history of economic thought books, this one tells you “what actually happened,” such as how an Econometrica editor (Robert Strotz) decided to publish the McKenzie paper before the Arrow-Debreu paper, when he had both in hand.

*My Morning Routine*

The editors and co-creators are Benjamin Spall and Michael Xander, and the subtitle is How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired.

They were generous enough to include a contribution from me, on my theory of how to get ready in the morning for the day to come:

I make sure I’ve already showered.  Too many people waste some of their most productive morning time showering.  Showering relaxes you and calms you down — why should that happen in the morning?  I prefer to enjoy my shower during the evening, when I know I’m winding down in any case.

And here is Scott Adams on related topics, from the same book:

I’m a trained hypnotist, and when I learned to do hypnosis I learned that self-hypnosis, if you’re trained to do it, is more effective and faster than meditation.

You can order the book here.

Data on incels

But whatever the direct effect of education on never-married men, the primary cause of the rise in sexlessness is simply the increasing delay of marriage. The delay in marriage has numerous causes, of course, but probably the most powerful driver of marital timing also relates to education. Men and women are much less likely to get married while attending school, and across times and countries, an increase in the years of schooling is associated with later age of marriage, though more-educated people do tend to get married eventually. Thus, as more and more schooling becomes necessary for a good middle-class job, marriage gets pushed later and later, leaving more young people (men and women!) companionless and lonely.

The rise of young male sexlessness isn’t about Chads and Stacies; it isn’t primarily about Tinder or Bumble; it’s not mostly about attitudinal shifts in what women want from relationships; and it’s not mainly about some new war between the sexes. It’s mostly about people spending more years in school and spending more years living at home. But that’s not actually a story about some change in sexual politics; instead, it’s a story about the modern knowledge economy, and to some extent exorbitant housing costs. As such, it’s no surprise that rising sexlessness is being observed in many countries. This, in turn, suggests that finding a solution to help young people pair up may not be as easy.

That is from Lyman Stone, there are useful charts and graphs at the link.