Category: Education

Which is the most ideologically diverse American city?

When I requested requests, Jimmy wrote back:

(1) Conversations with Tyler featuring an actual Straussian.

(2) What is the most ideologically / politically diverse city? Which most moderate in that regard? Where in America am I least likely to be in a bubble and why?

I have several nominations for #2:

1. Houston. It still has plenty of Texas conservatives, but enough non-conservatives to elect a lesbian mayor.  Mexicans fit along a political spectrum of their own.

2. Washington, D.C. and environs. The intellectual class in this city is about half conservative/Republican/libertarian and always will be — just don’t think too hard about who actually lives here!  Most of all, everyone is used to the fact that there are oodles and oodles of forces on the other side of the debate.  No one flips out over this.  Even the media types have a reasonable amount of non-left representation.

3. Chicago. Its presence in the Midwest moderates its left flank, there is a diverse mix of ethnic groups, and the city has lots of Midwestern civic virtue.  Real estate prices have stayed relatively low, so not all blue collar and working class types have been driven out.  “Old Chicago” is still up and running to some extent.

That’s the national capital, plus two of the five largest cities.  And I’ve already argued that, in a Straussian sense, Los Angeles is the most right wing city in the United States.  Orange County is ideologically diverse as well.  In other words, urban American is doing pretty well on intellectual diversity once you get out of (parts of) Manhattan and San Francisco and Seattle.

San Antonio measures as quite moderate, but is neither typical nor extremely diverse.  Here are some basic data, Nashville, Wichita, and Las Vegas also measure in the middle, and of those Las Vegas seems most diverse to me rather than simply dull.

Which place in the country is the least likely to leave you trapped in an intellectual bubble?  Somewhere in Ohio?  Columbus or Cincinnati?  Knoxville, Tennessee?  Louisville?  Kansas City, MO?  In those locales you truly are confronted with the everyday problems of regular American life and you are not obsessing over either crypto or what just passed through the subcommittee.

The proper conclusion may be that intellectual bubbles are a useful means of moving forward.

Might he have been a decent teacher?

Why did I go into teaching? Looking back it was crazy that I would do that. But I’d been through high school and college without getting caught – so being a teacher seemed a good place to hide. Nobody suspects a teacher of not knowing how to read.

I taught a lot of different things. I was an athletics coach. I taught social studies. I taught typing – I could copy-type at 65 words a minute but I didn’t know what I was typing. I never wrote on a blackboard and there was no printed word in my classroom. We watched a lot of films and had a lot of discussions.

I remember how fearful I was. I couldn’t even take the roll – I had to ask the students to pronounce their names so I could hear their names. And I always had two or three students who I identified early – the ones who could read and write best in the classroom – to help me. They were my teaching aids. They didn’t suspect at all – you don’t suspect the teacher.

Here is the full story, with other interesting 2/3 throughout, via the excellent Samir Varma.

Thwarted markets in everything

Stephen A. Schwarzman, the Wall Street billionaire, was prepared to cut a $25 million check to the high school he attended here in the 1960s, to help it pay for a huge renovation project.

He wanted only a few things in return.

For starters, the public school should be renamed in his honor. A portrait of him should be displayed prominently in the building. Spaces at the school should be named for his twin brothers. He should have the right to review the project’s contractors and to sign off on a new school logo.

The school district’s officials accepted the deal.

So it was that this Philadelphia bedroom community of 55,000, not normally a hotbed of civic unrest, exploded into a populist fury.

That is from Kate Kelly at the NYT.

The importance of local milieus

Using data on the entire population in combination with data on almost all individuals in Sweden listed as inventors, we study how the probability of being listed on a patent as inventor is influenced by the density of other future inventors residing in the same region. In this process, we control for demographic and sector effects along with the educational characteristics of parents. This approach allows us to trace how location history influences individuals’ inventive capacity. We focus on three types of influences: (a) future inventors in the municipality around the time of birth, (b) future inventors around the time of graduation from high school and (c) future inventors at graduation from higher education. We find suggestive evidence that co-locating with future inventors may impact the probability of becoming an inventor. The most consistent effect is found for place of higher education; some positive effects are also evident from birthplace, whereas no consistent positive effect can be derived from individuals’ high school location. Therefore, the formative influences mainly deriving from family upbringing, birth region and from local milieu effects arising from a conscious choice to attend a higher education affect the choice of becoming an inventor.

Here is the article, “How important are local inventive milieus: The role of birthplace, high school and university education,” by Olof Ejermo and Høgni Kalsø Hansen, via Ben Southwood.

Why are so many graduate students depressed?

PhD and master’s students worldwide report rates of depression and anxiety that are six times higher than those in the general public (T. M. Evans et al. Nature Biotech. 36, 282–284; 2018). The report, based on the responses of 2,279 students in 26 nations, found that more than 40% of respondents had anxiety scores in the moderate to severe range, and that nearly 40% showed signs of moderate to severe depression.

That is from this summary statement.  Here is the original piece.  So what might be going on here?

1. The ordeal of studying and possibly finishing is extreme, and extreme ordeals depress people.  This seems inconsistent with other evidence, however, namely rising (reported) rates of depression in prosperous, comfortable societies.

2. The task of studying and possibly finishing is correlated with a kind of extreme lassitude, and that in turn is correlated with depression.

3. Graduate students become depressed as they realize they have chosen poor life paths.

4. Graduate students become depressed as they realize, a’la Caplan, that it is mostly about signaling.

5. Graduate students are undergoing a transformation of their personalities, and being turned into intellectual elites, but this process is traumatic in several regards, thus leading to frequent depression.  The chance of depression is part of the price of admission to a select club.

6. Our graduate institutions serve women poorly (women in graduate school experience depression at higher rates — 41% vs 35% for the men).

7. It’s all just sample bias, as depressed graduate students have nothing better to do than respond to this survey.

What else?  And how much should we regard these results are symptoms of a deeper malaise?  Or is the problem confined mainly to academic life?

U.S.A. (Holocaust) fact of the day

But a survey released Thursday, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, found that many adults lack basic knowledge of what happened — and this lack of knowledge is more pronounced among millennials, whom the survey defined as people ages 18 to 34.

Thirty-one percent of Americans, and 41 percent of millennials, believe that two million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust; the actual number is around six million. Forty-one percent of Americans, and 66 percent of millennials, cannot say what Auschwitz was. Only 39 percent of Americans know that Hitler was democratically elected.

Here is the full Maggie Astor NYT story.  The last error is a little tricky, since Hitler was elected into a coalition government, but he wasn’t really elected to be “Hitler as head honcho.”  His later ascent resulted from political machinations of a not entirely democratic nature.  Still, I doubt if that confusion is what is steering most Americans wrong.

My Conversation with Agnes Callard

She is a philosopher at the University of Chicago, here is the transcript and audio.  We covered Plato and Socrates, what Plato is on about at all, the virtues of dialog and refutation, whether immortality would be boring, Elena Ferrante, parents vs. gangsters and Beethoven vs. Mozart, my two Straussian readings of her book, Jordan Peterson, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the best defense of reading the classics, and the Agnes Callard production function (physics to classics to philosophy), all in suitably informationally dense fashion.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: I have a friend who’s interested in longevity research…and he tells me there’s maybe a 10 percent chance that I actually will live forever due to possible scientific advances. I’m skeptical, but let’s just say I were to live forever. How bored would I end up, and how do you think about this question?

CALLARD: [laughs] I think it depends on how good of a person you are.

COWEN: And the good people are more or less bored?

CALLARD: Oh, they’re less bored. One thing is that you’re kind of having to live with yourself for a very long time if you’re immortal, or even just live for a couple thousand years, and a bad self, I think, is hard to live with. By bad, I don’t just mean sort of, let’s say, cruel to people or unjust. I also mean not attuned to things of eternal significance.

I think you can get by in a 100-year life not being too much attuned to things of eternal significance because there’s so much fascinating stuff out there, and one can go from one thing to the next and not get bored. But if we’re talking about eternity, or even thousands of years, you’d better find something to occupy you that is really riveting in the way that I think only eternal things are.

I think that what you’re really asking is something like, “Could I be a god?” And I think, “Well, if you became godlike, you could, and then it would be OK.”

COWEN: Let me give you a hypothesis. You can react to it. That which is cultural, say, listening to music, I would get bored with, even though wonderful music maybe continually will be created. But those activities which are more primeval, more biological — parenting, sex, food, sleep, maybe taking a wonderful shower — that are quite brute, in a way, maybe I would substitute more into those as an immortal? Yes?

CALLARD: I don’t see why you wouldn’t get just as bored of bodily pleasures.

COWEN: You’re programmed for those to be so immediate and riveting, right? You evolve to be maybe an 80-year-old being, or perhaps even a 33-year-old being, so you are riveted on things like reproduction and getting enough sleep. And that stays riveting, even when you’re on this program to live 80,000 years.

CALLARD: I think that at least some of those activities stay riveting for us over the course of our lives because their meaning changes…

And:

COWEN: Let’s turn now to your new book, Aspiration: The Agency of Becoming. There’s a sentence from the book. Let me read it, and maybe you can explain it. “Proleptic reasons allow you to be rational even when you know that your reasons aren’t exactly the right ones.” What’s a proleptic reason?

This was my favorite part, though perhaps few of you will get the joke:

COWEN: On aspiration, what do you think of Jordan Peterson?

CALLARD: I had this odd feeling. He only became known to me quite recently, in the past couple of weeks. I was listening to him talk, and I was thinking he sounds a little bit like Socrates, but not Socrates. I was like, “Who is that? Who is he reminding me of?” And it’s Xenophon’s Socrates.

Here you can buy her just-published book Aspiration: The Agency of Becoming.  You cannot follow her on Twitter.

What should I ask Juan Villarino?

I’ll be doing a Conversation with him in early May.  He is often known as “the world’s greatest hitchhiker,” here is a NYT profile of him.  Excerpt:

Villarino has cataloged every ride he has ever caught: 2,350, totaling about 100,000 miles in 90 countries, or enough to circumnavigate the globe four times.

He is from Argentina, and worked for a while in a Belfast cheese factory.  He is described as from a “downwardly mobile middle-class family” and:

In Buenos Aires, three men tried to mug him, but when they realized who he was, the thieves gave him money.

And:

They [Villarino and his wife] continue to live on about $7 a day each and travel as they always have, leading a life almost entirely on the highway, without a fixed address or jobs or bills.

Here is his blog and also a link to his self-published book.  Here is his blog in Spanish.  So what should I ask him?

Arbitrage, by economics departments

Foreign STEM graduates (the acronym stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics) can get visa extensions for three years of practical training (ie, work). Those from other disciplines are allowed only a year.

Two more years working in America means more earnings. It also means a better chance of finding an employer willing to sponsor an application for an H-1B visa, the main starting-point for skilled foreign workers who hope to settle permanently. In 2012 the Department of Homeland Security expanded the list of STEM courses. Now any reasonably crunchy economics degree can count as STEM with a tweak to its federal classification code, from economics (45.0601) to econometrics and quantitative economics (45.0603).

Economics departments appear to be catching on. Yale and Columbia have both changed the code for their economics major in the past few months; five of the eight Ivy League Universities have now done so. Students at Pennsylvania and Cornell are agitating for a switch.

Here is more from The Economist.

Cross-cultural digital instruction

Comparative ethnographic analysis of three middle schools that vary by student class and race reveals that students’ similar digital skills are differently transformed by teachers into cultural capital for achievement. Teachers effectively discipline students’ digital play but in different ways. At a school serving working-class Latino youth, students are told their digital expressions are irrelevant to learning; at a school with mostly middle-class Asian American youth, students’ digital expressions are seen as threats to their ability to succeed academically; and at a private school with mainly wealthy white youth, students’ digital skills are positioned as essential to school success. Insofar as digital competency represents a kind of cultural capital, the minority and working-class students also have that capital. But theirs is not translated into teacher-supported opportunities for achievement.

Here is the AJS piece, by Matthew H. Rafalow.  For the pointer I thank Kevin Lewis.

1986 interview with Thomas Bernhard

It is wonderful throughout, here is one good part of many:

What, in your view, is a conversation?

I don’t usually have them. To me people who want to have a conversation are suspect, because that raises particular expectations they’re unable to satisfy. Simple people are very good to talk with. When talking is supposed to become conversation, that’s when things get gruesome! That fine expression “everything under the sun.” It all gets thrown in together and then one person stirs this way, the other stirs that, and an unbearable stinking turd comes out the bottom. No matter who it is. There are collected conversations, hundreds of them, books full. Entire publishing houses live off them. Like something coming out of an anus, and then it gets squashed in between book covers. This wasn’t a conversation either.

Do read the whole thing.

In Praise of Modern Principles

Writing about economics for a large audience at Marginal Revolution taught Tyler and me to get to the point quickly, use vivid examples, and avoid unnecessary math and other jargon. We brought all these lessons to our textbook, Modern Principles of Economics. We wanted to teach modern topics such as tying and bundling–pricing schemes familiar to students from cell phone plans, Cable TV and software sales yet not discussed in most principles textbooks–while recognizing that most students who take a principles course will never take another economics course. The most complicated math function in our book is the square root function.

Fortunately, judging by the reception of MP, we have succeeded in our goals. Modern Principles is used in a wide-range of universities and colleges throughout the United States, at places like the University of Pennsylvania, UCLA, and Minnesota and also Henry Ford College, Rock Valley College and the SUNY Colleges. Here are a few reactions from users of Modern Principles.

I can’t tell you how many people I have met who took economics in college, and who hated it. If only they had started with Cowen and Tabarrok. Modern Principles is one of the few books that will immerse students into the elegance and beauty of our science, and which will create a lifelong love of economics.

Lee E. Ohanian,
Professor of Economics, UCLA
and Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution
Stanford University

Cowen and Tabarrok’s Modern Principles and the accompanying videos make for an unbeatable combination for both students and instructors. The intuition is clear and the examples—both contemporary and interesting—draw students into the material. This text is a fantastic tool for showing students how economics impacts their daily lives in choices great and small. My students come to class with questions, eager to discuss in more detail the concepts covered in the videos and text.

Abigail Hall,
Department of Economics,
University of Tampa

I have tried multiple textbooks over the last ten years. None of them engage my students as well as Modern Principles by Cowen and Tabarrok. The writing is fresh and lively. The videos are clear and entertaining. It is a book that attracts students who will never take another economics course and excites economics majors.

Randy T. Simmons,
Professor of Political Economy,
Utah State University

Here’s a cool video explaining some of the features of Modern Principles.

Gender pay gap observation

…according to a new analysis of 2,000 communities by a market research company, in 147 out of 150 of the biggest cities in the U.S., the median full-time salaries of young women are 8% higher than those of the guys in their peer group. In two cities, Atlanta and Memphis, those women are making about 20% more. This squares with earlier research from Queens College, New York, that had suggested that this was happening in major metropolises. But the new study suggests that the gap is bigger than previously thought, with young women in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego making 17%, 12% and 15% more than their male peers, respectively. And it also holds true even in reasonably small areas like the Raleigh-Durham region and Charlotte in North Carolina (both 14% more), and Jacksonville, Fla. (6%).

The figures come from James Chung of Reach Advisors, who has spent more than a year analyzing data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. He attributes the earnings reversal overwhelmingly to one factor: education. For every two guys who graduate from college or get a higher degree, three women do. This is almost the exact opposite of the graduation ratio that existed when the baby boomers entered college. Studies have consistently shown that a college degree pays off in much higher wages over a lifetime, and even in many cases for entry-level positions. “These women haven’t just caught up with the guys,” says Chung. “In many cities, they’re clocking them.”

Chung also claims that, as far as women’s pay is concerned, not all cities are created equal. Having pulled data on 2,000 communities and cross-referenced the demographic information with the wage-gap figures, he found that the cities where women earned more than men had at least one of three characteristics. Some, like New York City or Los Angeles, had primary local industries that were knowledge-based. Others were manufacturing towns whose industries had shrunk, especially smaller ones like Erie, Pa., or Terre Haute, Ind. Still others, like Miami or Monroe, La., had a majority minority population. (Hispanic and black women are twice as likely to graduate from college as their male peers.)

That is not the final word, but here is more from Time magazine.