An excellent new working paper uses genetic markers for educational attainment to track students through the high school math curriculum to better understand the role of nature, nurture and their interaction in math attainment. The paper begins with an earlier genome wide association study (GWAS) of 1.1 million people that found that a polygenic score could be used to (modestly) predict college completion rates. Panel (a) in the figure at right shows how college completion is five times higher in individuals with an education polygenic score (ed-PGS) in the highest quintile compared to individuals with scores in the lowest quintile; panel b shows that ed-PGS is at least as good as household income at predicting college attainment but not quite as good as knowing the educational level of the parents.
Of the million plus individuals with ed-PGS, some 3,635 came from European-heritage individuals who were entering US high school students in 1994-1995 (the Add Health sample). Harden, Domingue et al. take the ed-PGS of these individuals and match them up with data from their high school curricula and their student transcripts.
What they find is math attainment is a combination of nature and nurture. First, students with higher ed-PGS are more likely to be tracked into advanced math classes beginning in grade 9. (Higher ed-PGS scores are also associated with higher socio-economic status families and schools but these differences persist even after controlling for family and school SES or looking only at variation within schools.) Higher ed-PGS also predicts math persistence in the following years. The following diagram tracks high ed-PGS (blue) with lower ed-PGS (brown) over high school curricula/years and post high-school. Note that by grade 9 there is substantial tracking and some cross-over but mostly (it appears to me) in high-PGS students who fall off-track (note in particular the big drop off of blue students from Pre-Calculus to None in Grade 12).
Nature, however, is modified by nurture. “Students had higher returns to their genetic propensities for educational attainment in higher-status schools.” Higher ed-PGS students in lower SES schools were less likely to be tracked into higher-math classes and lower-SES students were less likely to persist in such classes.
It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that higher-SES schools are uniformly better without understanding the tradoffs. Lower SES schools have fewer high-ability students which makes it difficult to run advanced math classes. Perhaps the lesson here is that bigger schools are better, particularly bigger schools in poorer SES districts. A big school in a low SES district can still afford an advanced math curriculum.
The authors also suggest that more students could take advanced math classes. Even among the top 2% of students as measured by ed-PGS only 31% took Calculus in the high-SES schools and only 24% in the low SES schools.It’s not clear to me, however, that high-PGS necessitates high math achievement. Notice that many high-PGS students take pre-calc in Grade 11 but then no math in Grade 12 but they still go on to college and masters degrees. Lots of highly educated people are not highly-educated in math. Still it wouldn’t be a surprise if there were more math talent in the pool.
There is plenty to criticize in the paper. The measure of SES status by school (average mother’s educational attainment) leaves something to be desired. Moreover, there are indirect genetic effects, which the authors understand and discuss but don’t have the data to test. An indirect genetic effect occurs when a gene shared by parent and child has no direct effect on educational capacity (i.e. it’s not a gene for say neuronal development) but has an indirect “effect” because it is correlated with something that parent’s with that gene do to modify the environment of their children. Nevertheless, genes do have direct effects and this paper forces us to acknowledge that behavioral genetics has implications for policy.
Should every student be genotyped and tracked? On the one hand, that sounds horrible. On the other hand, it would identify more students of high ability, especially from low SES backgrounds. Genetics tells us something about a student’s potential and shouldn’t we try to maximize potential?
For homework, work out the equilibrium for inequality, rewatch the criminally underrated GATTACA and for an even more horrifying picture of the future, pay careful attention to the Mirrlees model of optimal income taxation.
That is the topic of my new Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:
To be sure, there are problems with the idea of equitizing human capital. For instance, what if less talented, less hard-working individuals turn out to be the most likely to sign away part of their future income? That creates a problem that economists call “adverse selection.” This is a real issue, but it hasn’t stopped companies from selling equity and startups from selling venture capital shares. As for the students, due diligence and talent measurement may suffice to identify enough good students with bright prospects.
There are also genuine questions about how far this model can be extended. The demand for labor is robust in information technology, but would a similar system work for philosophy professors or prospective musicians? In both cases incomes are undoubtedly lower, motivations non-pecuniary, and the chances for real success more remote. The company Pando Pooling, meanwhile, is trying equitization with minor league baseball players. The importance of raw baseball talent may be so paramount, however, that companies cannot much improve the labor market prospects of their clients.
Note also that we already equitize each other’s labor in many non-explicit, non-corporate ways. If two economists write a paper together, for example, each is tying his or her fate somewhat to the other. And if two people in business decide to share networks or trade favors, each has a stake in the success of the other.
The piece also consider Lambda School in San Francisco as an institution trying to operationalize this practice.
Except I call it the Twitter paradox, and it is about how neurotics really get on each others’ nerves:
The “friendship paradox” (first noted by Feld in 1991) refers to the fact that, on average, people have strictly fewer friends than their friends have. I show that this oversampling of more popular people can lead people to perceive more engagement than exists in the overall population. This feeds back to amplify engagement in behaviors that involve complementarities. Also, people with the greatest proclivity for a behavior choose to interact the most, leading to further feedback and amplification. These results are consistent with studies finding overestimation of peer consumption of alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs and with resulting high levels of drug and alcohol consumption.
Toffee is the world’s first dating app for people who were privately educated…[W]hether it’s a shared interest in horse racing or rugby, Toffee users can indicate which sporting and social events they are interested in or likely to attend, to further enhance the matching logic.
The internet gives us the technological capability to transmit digital information seamlessly over any distance. The concept of culture is more complicated, but I mean the influences and inspirations we grow up with, such as the family norms and practices of a place, the street scenes, the local architecture and cuisine, and the slang. Culture comes from both nearby and more distant sources, but the emotional vividness of face-to-face interactions means that a big part of culture is intrinsically local.
Rapid Amazon delivery, or coffee shops that look alike all around the world, stem in part from the internet. The recommendations from the smart person who works in the local bookstore, or the local Sicilian recipe that cannot be reproduced elsewhere, are examples of culture.
Since the late 1990s, the internet has become far more potent. Yet the core techniques of culture have hardly become more productive at all, unless we are talking about through the internet. The particular aspects of culture which have done well are those easily translated to the digital world, such as songs on YouTube and streaming. When people are staring at their mobile devices for so many minutes or hours a day, that has to displace something. Those who rely on face-to-face relationships to transmit their influence and authority don’t have nearly the clout they once did.
The internet gaining on culture has made the last twenty years some of the most revolutionary in history, at least in terms of the ongoing fight for mindshare, even though the physical productivity of our economy has been mediocre. People are upset by the onset of populism in world politics, but the miracle is that so much stability has reigned, relative to the scope of the underlying intellectual and what you might call “methodological” disruptions.
The traditional French intellectual class, while retrograde in siding largely with culture, understands the ongoing clash fairly well. Consistently with their core loyalties, they do not mind if the influence of the internet is stifled or even destroyed, or if the large American tech companies are collateral damage.
Many Silicon Valley CEOs are in the opposite boat. Most of their formative experiences are with the internet and typically from young ages. The cultural perspective of the French intellectuals is alien to them, and so they repeatedly do not understand why their products are not more politically popular. They find it easier to see that the actual users love both their products and their companies. Of course, for the intellectuals and culture mandarins that popularity makes the entire revolution even harder to stomach.
Donald Trump ascended to the presidency because he mastered both worlds, namely he commands idiomatic American cultural expressions and attitudes, and also he has been brilliant in his political uses of Twitter. AOC has mastered social media only, and it remains to be seen whether Kamala Harris and Joe Biden have mastered either, but probably not.
Elizabeth Warren is now leading a campaign to split up the major tech companies, but unlike the Europeans she is not putting forward culture as an intellectual alternative. Her anti-tech campaign is better understood as an offset of some of the more hostility-producing properties of the internet itself. It is no accident that the big tech companies take such a regular pounding on social media, which is well-designed to communicate negative sentiment. In this regard, the American and European anti-tech movements are not nearly as close as they might at first seem.
In the internet vs. culture debate, the internet is at some decided disadvantages. For instance, despite its losses of mindshare, culture still holds many of the traditional measures of status. Many intellectuals thus are afraid to voice the view that a lot of culture is a waste of time and we might be better off with more time spent on the internet. Furthermore, many of the responses to the tech critics focus on narrower questions of economics or the law, without realizing that what is at stake are two different visions of how human beings should think and indeed live. When that is the case, policymakers will tend to resort to their own value judgments, rather than listening to experts. For better or worse, the internet-loving generations do not yet hold most positions of political power (recall Zuckerberg’s testimony to Congress).
The internet also is good at spreading glorified but inaccurate pictures of the virtues of local culture, such as when Trump tweets about making America great again, or when nationalist populism becomes an internet-based, globalized phenomenon.
The paradox is that only those with a deep background in culture have the true capacity to defend the internet and also to understand its critics, but they are exactly the people least likely to take up that battle.
Students who happen to be assigned classes in one of four required subjects during the semester when they’re supposed to pick a major are twice as likely to major in the assigned subject, according to a new working paper from Pope, and Richard Patterson and Aaron Feudo of the U.S. Military Academy.
This held true regardless of how well a student did or how much they liked the course, according to the economists’ analysis of U.S. Military Academy class data from 2001 to 2015. Their database included grades, class times and students’ opinions of the course. It allowed them to control for factors such as students’ hometowns and racial backgrounds.
“Small and seemingly unimportant things can really have a large impact on people’s life decisions,” Pope said. Often students cite a specific class or teacher as justification for this life-altering choice.
In a related paper, the economists, along with Carnegie Mellon’s Kareem Haggag, showed students are about 10 percent less likely to major in a subject if they took a class at 7:30 a.m. Likewise, as students grow more fatigued during the day they grow about 10 percent less likely to major in the subject covered by each successive class…
Given how easily a first choice of major can be swayed by accidents of timing and environment, it’s perhaps not surprising that 37 percent of students eventually switch, according to a new paper from University of Memphis economists Carmen Astorne-Figari and Jamin D. Speer that will be published in the journal Economics of Education Review…
Students with lower GPAs are more likely to leave their major. But so are women of all ability levels. In contrast, men are more likely to drop out instead of sticking around and trying a different subject, according to a study published last year by Astorne-Figari and Speer.
Both men and women are most likely to abandon majors in the sciences. In addition, education and philosophy appear in the top five majors men leave most frequently, while women are more likely to leave computer science…
Students tend to switch to less competitive majors.
On net, business, social sciences and economics tend to gain the most students from major switching, while biology, computer science and medicine (medical and health services) tend to lose the most.
Curious if you’ve read this (has a PDF link):
Is this paper bad? If it is bad, what is bad about it? How would you describe “what is bad about it” in a way that would connect to a college freshman who finds his/her economics and critical race theory classes to be equally interesting and deserving of further study? This extends to broader questions about “what precisely is undesirable about the state of social-justice-oriented academic study?” I have seen a lot of backhanded stuff from you on this topic, but not a centrally articulated, earnest answer.
That is from my email, and I would broaden the question to be about social justice warriors more generally. Most of all, I would say I am all for social justice warriors! Properly construed, that is. But two points must be made:
1. Many of the people who are called social justice warriors I would not put in charge of a candy shop, much less trust them to lead the next jihad.
2. Many social justice warriors seem more concerned with tearing down, blacklisting, and deplatforming others, or even just whining about them, rather than working hard to actually boost social justice, whatever you might take that to mean. Most of that struggle requires building things in a positive way, I am sorry to say.
That all said, do not waste too much of your own energies countering the not-so-helpful class of social justice warriors. It is not worth it. Perhaps someone needs to play such a role, but surely those neuterers are not, or at least should not be, the most talented amongst us.
No matter what your exact view of the world, or what kind of ornery pessimist or determinist or conservative or even reactionary you may be, you should want to be working toward some kind of emancipation in the world. No, I am not saying there always is a clear “emancipatory” side of a debate, or that most issues are “us vs. them.” Rather, if you are not sure you are doing the right thing, ask a simple question: am I building something? Whether it be a structure, an institution, or simply a positive idea, proposal, or method.
The answer to that building question may not always be obvious, but it stands a pretty good chance of getting you to an even better question for your next round of inquiry.
It’s time to get your applications in for the 2019 Public Choice Outreach conference, a crash course in public choice for students from all fields and walks of life! Professors, please encourage your students to apply!
When is the Public Choice Outreach Conference?
The 2019 Outreach Conference will be held June 14-16th at the Hyatt Centric Arlington in Rosslyn, VA.
What is the Public Choice Outreach Conference?
The Public Choice Outreach Conference is a compact lecture series designed as a “crash course” in Public Choice for students planning careers in academia, journalism, law, or public policy. Graduate students and advanced undergraduates are eligible to apply. Many past participants of the Outreach seminar have gone on to notable careers in academia, law and business.
What will I learn?
Students are introduced to the history and basic tools of public choice analysis, such as models of voting and elections, and models of government and legislative organization. Students also learn to apply public choice theory to a wide range of relevant issues. Finally, students will be introduced to “constitutional economics” and the economics of rule making.
This is a chance to hear talks from Robin Hanson, Alex Tabarrok, Shruti Rajagopolan, Tyler Cowen and more.
Who can apply?
Graduate students and advanced undergraduates are eligible to apply. Students majoring in economics, history, international studies, law, philosophy political science, psychology, public administration, religious studies, and sociology have attended past conferences. Advanced degree students with a demonstrated interest in political economy or demonstrated interest in political economy are invited to apply. Applicants unfamiliar with Public Choice and students from outside of George Mason University are especially encouraged.
What are the fees involved?
Outreach has no conference fee – it is free to attend. Room and meals are included for all participants. However, ALL travel costs are the responsibility of the participants.
Click here for the 2019 Outreach Application
Here is a new and important piece on the economics of science, from , , and
Contemporary science has been characterized by an exponential growth in publications and a rise of team science. At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of awarded PhD degrees, which has not been accompanied by a similar expansion in the number of academic positions. In such a competitive environment, an important measure of academic success is the ability to maintain a long active career in science. In this paper, we study workforce trends in three scientific disciplines over half a century. We find dramatic shortening of careers of scientists across all three disciplines. The time over which half of the cohort has left the field has shortened from 35 y in the 1960s to only 5 y in the 2010s. In addition, we find a rapid rise (from 25 to 60% since the 1960s) of a group of scientists who spend their entire career only as supporting authors without having led a publication. Altogether, the fraction of entering researchers who achieve full careers has diminished, while the class of temporary scientists has escalated. We provide an interpretation of our empirical results in terms of a survival model from which we infer potential factors of success in scientific career survivability. Cohort attrition can be successfully modeled by a relatively simple hazard probability function. Although we find statistically significant trends between survivability and an author’s early productivity, neither productivity nor the citation impact of early work or the level of initial collaboration can serve as a reliable predictor of ultimate survivability.
As Raghuveer Parthasarathy argues in his excellent blog post: “…small groups may be innovative, but they are the hardest to sustain given the randomness of scientific funding.”
For the pointer I thank Raghuveer Parthasarathy.
In a word, no. They shut the place down for five years and spent $84 million, to redesign the displays, and what they reopened still looks and feels incredibly colonial. That’s not an architectural complaint, only that the museum cannot escape what it has been for well over a century. Most of the 180,000 art objects there were either stolen or bought under terms of implicit coercion. There is an Africa Gallery covering the crimes of King Leopold in the Congo, but it is easy enough to be transfixed by the art and not really take it in. How about a full room near the entrance devoted to the anti-imperialist E.D. Morel? And while there are now more art works from the post-colonial period, there is no room devoted to the often very impressive art worlds of Central Africa today. Having more African people talk on screens was nice, but it doesn’t do the trick. The colonial still seems glorious, and the post-colonial mediocre.
Despite DRC demands, I do understand that the repatriation of the objects themselves would not be wise, given the current state of the DRC. In 1976-1982, 114 objects were in fact restituted, but most of them ended up stolen (NYT). For me preserving the art comes first, and furthermore the current DRC government is hardly a legitimate spokesperson for the historic civilizations of the region. But might the museum at least have presented the issue in some morally conscious manner?
Before you walk into the museum proper, there is a room devoted to all the sculptures and displays now considered too colonial or too racist for the current museum. Of course this draws more attention to them, and furthermore the dividing lines are by no means always clear. That said, there is a double irony, namely that some of the items in this room are sufficiently obnoxious that their display represents a better apology than any part of what is intended as apology.
This is still all much better than the past, when at one time a human zoo of 267 enslaved Congolese was put on display here, in fact that was the inaugural exhibit in 1897. At least there is now a memorial to those of the enslaved who died of influenza. And the plaque “Belgium Brings Civilization to the Congo” has been taken down. Yet this:
The rapacious monarch’s monogram dots the walls of the palatial museum on the former royal estate, which he used to drum up investment for his colonial ventures at the 1897 World Exhibition.
Oh, and there are colonial statues built into the walls:
One was of black children clinging to a white missionary. Another was of a topless African woman dancing.
They cannot be removed because of cultural heritage laws in Belgium.
The animal displays also no longer seem of our time, more about size and stuffing and the conquest of nature rather than with much of a notion of environmental or biodiversity or animal welfare awareness.
It is nonetheless a spectacular museum, the best chronicle anywhere for the Central African artistic achievement by an order of magnitude, and one of the best and most interesting places in Europe right now. It is worth the rather convoluted one hour trip you must take from Brussels, or if you are visiting Waterloo it isn’t far away at all. For all its flaws (or in part because of them?), go if you can.
The art aside, the other lesson is imperialism and colonialism cast a longer shadow than you might at first think. The realities of cultural constipation remain underrated.
Here is the transcript and audio, we covered so much, here is the CWT summary:
How much has the U.S. actually fixed the financial system? Does India have the best food in the world? Why does China struggle to maintain a strong relationship with allies? Why are people trading close-knit communities for isolating cities? And what types of institutions are we missing in our social structure? Listen to Rajan’s thorough conversation with Tyler to dive into these questions and much more.
Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: A lot of observers have suggested to me that the notion of a kind of Anglo-American liberalism as ascendant in India is now a dead idea, that ideologically, India has somehow shifted, and the main currents of thought, including on the so-called right, are just really not liberalism anymore. Do you have a take on that view?
RAJAN: I’m not sure I would agree. I would say that we’ve had a government over the last five years which has elements of the majoritarian, Hindu nationalist group in it. But I would argue the country, as a whole, is still firmly secular, liberal in the Nehruvian idea, which is that we need a country which is open to different religions, to different ethnicities, to different beliefs if we are to stay together.
And democracy plays an important role here because it allows some of the pressures which build up in each community to essentially get expressed and therefore diffuses some of the pressure. So I think India’s ideal is still a polyglot coming together in this country.
COWEN: But someone like Ramachandra Guha — what he symbolizes intellectually — do you think that would be a growing part of India’s future? Or that will dwindle as colonial ties become smaller, the United States less important in global affairs?
RAJAN: I think that an open, liberal, tolerant country is really what we need for the next stage of growth. We are now reaching middle income. We could go a little faster. We should go a little faster there.
Once we reach middle income, to grow further, I think we need an intellectual openness, which only the kind of democracy we have — the open dialogue, a respectful dialogue — will generate the kinds of innovative forces that will take us more to the frontier.
So I keep saying, and I say this in the book, we’re very well positioned for the next stage of growth, from middle to high income. But we first have to reach middle income.
COWEN: Will current payments companies end up as competitors to banks or complements to the banking system? Or are they free riders on the banking system?
RAJAN: I think they’re trying to figure out their space. As of now, sometimes they’re substituting for . . . Certainly, my daughter uses her payment system completely separate from her bank account. But longer term, we’ll find ways of meshing these in and reduce the costs of making payments. Those costs are really too high at this point, and reducing those costs makes a lot of sense.
COWEN: Will banks ever be truly excellent at doing software?
RAJAN: I think we will have a combination of the guys who are truly good at software — the fintech companies — merging with banks who know how to do the financial side. They’ll bring each of their talents together. I’ve seen a lot of fintech people who have no clue as to what finance is really about. And I’ve seen a lot of banks who have no clue as to what tech is about. I think some merger will happen over time.
There is much more at the link. And here is Raghu’s new book The Third Pillar: How Markets and the State Leave Community Behind.
Of course universities have long taken money to let in unqualified applicants, what is happening here is they are going after the local rate busters. Here is my Bloomberg column on this topic, excerpt:
My second worry is that the number of bribery cases suggests that many wealthy Americans perceive higher education to be an ethics-free, law-free zone where the only restraint on your behavior is whatever you can get away with.
I suspect that most of those charged in this case never expected they might have to answer in court for their actions. To consider a parallel situation: I wouldn’t dream of shoplifting. Yet I sometimes drive 32 mph in a 25 mph speed zone. Like most of us, I draw a distinction between laws we are expected to follow, and laws we aren’t.
To me, the number of people caught up in this scandal indicates that too many Americans do not take seriously the idea that our system of higher education is a set of institutions bound by morality and laws. They take its governing rules as optional and conditional, depending on convenience, much as we do many speed-limit signs.
In this case, those charged are mostly wealthy Americans of high social status, not gangsters. They probably thought of themselves as law-abiding Americans, with exceptions so minor as to be negligible. In other words, this case illustrates what a low opinion America has of its system of higher education. As a university professor, I would feel much better if it had been mobsters charged with these alleged crimes.
There is much more at the link.
As always, note that the descriptions are mine and reflect my priorities, as the self-descriptions of the applicants may be broader or slightly different. Here goes:
Michelle Rorich, for her work in economic development and Africa, to be furthered by a bike trip Cairo to Capetown.
Jeffrey C. Huber, to write a book on tech and economic progress from a Christian point of view.
Mayowa Osibodu, building AI programs to preserve endangered languages.
David Forscey, travel grant to look into issues and careers surrounding protection against election fraud.
Jennifer Doleac, Texas A&M, to develop an evidence-based law and economics, crime and punishment podcast.
Fergus McCullough, University of St. Andrews, travel grant to help build a career in law/history/politics/public affairs.
Justin Zheng, a high school student working on biometrics for cryptocurrency.
Kyle Eschen, comedian and magician and entertainer, to work on an initiative for the concept of “steelmanning” arguments.
Here is the first cohort of winners, and here is the second cohort. Here is the underlying philosophy behind Emergent Ventures. Note by the way, if you received an award very recently, you have not been forgotten but rather will show up in the fourth cohort.
That is a new and forthcoming book by Michael H. Kater, excerpt:
The book’s first contention is that in order for a new Nazi type of culture to take hold, the preceding forms first had to be wiped out. This mainly affected the artistic and intellectual achievements most hated by the Nazis, those of the Weimar Republic, whose aesthetic and political hallmark was Modernism. The police controls Hitler used to carry out purges in political and social contexts were also used against Modernist art forms and their creators…
However, as far as films were concerned, the most acute interest shown by Hitler was in the weekly newsreels. These embodied for him what film was all about: an ideal instrument for political control. He regularly commented on newsreels to Goebbels, and had some several cut or modified. More so than in the case of feature films, Hitler was liable to override any decisions Goebbels had already made on them. Even long before the war broke out Hitler was adamant that newsreels display the heroic…
Recommended, even if you feel you’ve had your fill of books on Nazi Germany.
Imagine: For the rest of your life, you are assigned no tasks at work. You can watch movies, read books, work on creative projects or just sleep. In fact, the only thing that you have to do is clock in and out every day. Since the position is permanent, you’ll never need to worry about getting another job again.
Starting in 2026, this will be one lucky (or extremely bored) worker’s everyday reality, thanks to a government-funded conceptual art project in Gothenburg, Sweden. The employee in question will report to Korsvägen, a train station under construction in the city, and will receive a salary of about $2,320 a month in U.S. dollars, plus annual wage increases, vacation time off and a pension for retirement. While the artists behind the project won’t be taking applications until 2025, when the station will be closer to opening, a draft of the help-wanted ad is already available online, as Atlas Obscura reported on Monday.
The job’s requirements couldn’t be simpler: An employee shows up to the train station each morning and punches the time clock. That, in turn, illuminates an extra bank of fluorescent lights over the platform, letting travelers and commuters know that the otherwise functionless employee is on the job. At the end of the day, the worker returns to clock out, and the lights go off. In between, they can do whatever they want, aside from work at another paying job.
That is by Antonia Noori Farzan at WaPo. The project is called “Eternal Employment.”
For the pointer I thank Peter Sperry.