Category: Education

Elite high school TJ will continue as it was

Fed. judge holds that Fairfax County, Virginia violated 14A by changing its high-ranked magnet school’s admission policies to decrease the proportion of Asian-American students. Strict scrutiny applies, and racial balancing is not a compelling interest.

The thread is of interest more generally, for instance “…the county officials here perceived that racial balancing was the goal because they got that cue from state-level Education officials on a DEI taskforce.”

I have been predicting privately for a while that TJ would be saved.  I’ll say it again: I think Wokeism has peaked, and the conflict in Ukraine will make it seem all the less relevant.

My Conversation with Chuck Klosterman

Excellent stuff, we had so much fun we kept on going for an extra half hour, as he decided to ask me a bunch of questions about economics and personal finance.  Here is the audio and transcript.  Here is the CWT summary:

Chuck joined Tyler to discuss the challenges of writing about recent history, the “slow cancellation of the future” that began in the aughts, how the internet widened cultural knowledge but removed its depth, why the context of Seinfeld was in some ways more important than its content, what Jurassic Park illustrates about public feelings around scientific progress in the ’90s, why the ’90s was the last era of physical mass subcultures, why it’s uncommon to be shocked by modern music, how his limited access to art when growing up made him a better critic, why Spin Magazine became irrelevant with the advent of online streaming, what made Grantland so special, what he learned from teaching in East Germany, the impact of politics on the legacies of Eric Clapton and Van Morrison, how sports often rewards obnoxious personalities, why Wilt Chamberlain is still underrated, how the self-awareness of the Portland Trail Blazers undermined them, how the design of the NFL makes sports rivalries nearly impossible, how pro-level compensation prevents sports gambling from corrupting players, why so many people are interested in e-sports, the unteachable element of writing, why he didn’t make a great editor on his school paper, what he’d say to a room filled with ex-lovers, the question he’d most like to ask his parents, his impressions of cryptocurrency, why he’s trying to focus on what he has in the current moment rather than think too much about future plans, the power of charisma, and more.

Whew!  Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: I see the world as follows. Every decade, to me, is super weird, but the 1980s and ’90s pretended they weren’t weird. The ’80s pretended to be good versus evil. The ’90s pretended that good won. But when crypto comes and persists, you have to drop all pretense that the age you’re living in isn’t totally weird.

You have internet crypto, and everyone admits, right now, everything’s weird. And that, to me, is the fundamental break with the 1990s because everyone pretended most things were normal and that Seinfeld was your dose of weird, right? Jason Alexander — that’s a very manageable weird.

KLOSTERMAN: Oh, absolutely.

COWEN: Some guy in an apartment in New York City cracking sarcastic jokes — like, whoop-de-do.


KLOSTERMAN: …this guy, Mark Fisher, who’s dead now, had this idea about the slow cancellation of the future. I feel like that’s one of the most profound ideas that I’ve come across in the last 10 years of my life, and it seems so palpable that this is occurring.

An example I will often use is, if you take, say, 10 minutes from an obscure film in 1965 with no major actors, and then you take 10 minutes from an obscure film from 1980 where nobody became famous, and you show anyone these 10-minute clips, they will have no problem whatsoever figuring out which one came first. Even a little kid can look at a movie from 1965 and a movie from 1980 and instantly understand that one predates the other.

But if you do that with a film from 2005 and a film from 2020 — again, an obscure film where you don’t recognize the actors — you’re just looking at it aesthetically and trying to deduce which one came first and which one came second. It’s almost impossible.

This phenomenon just seems to almost be infiltrating every aspect of the culture…


KLOSTERMAN: Before I did this podcast, I listened to your podcast with Žižek.

COWEN: Oh yeah, that was hilarious.

KLOSTERMAN: Are you friends with him? It sure seemed like it. And if you are, what is it like to be with him when he is not in a performative scenario?

Recommended.  And again, here is Chuck’s new book The Nineties.

What should I ask Daniel Gross?

I will be doing a Conversation with him, noting that he is my co-author on Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creators, and Winners Around the World.

Daniel is an entrepreneur and venture capitalist and here is his Wikipedia page.  Here is Daniel on Twitter.  Here is Daniel’s ideas page.  Here is Daniel on his work, including Pioneer.

Since we are co-authors, this won’t just be the standard interview format, how do you think we should do it?  And what should we ask each other?

Wokeism has peaked

Virginia has gone Republican (temporarily, because of school-related issues), San Francisco recalled its school board by a decisive margin, Joe Rogan wasn’t cancelled, and there may be a significant war in Ukraine.  That is the theme of my latest Bloomberg column.  Excerpt:

The turning point for the fortunes of the woke may be this week’s school board election in San Francisco, where three members were recalled by a margin of more than 70%. Voters were upset that the school board spent time trying to rename some schools in a more politically correct manner, rather than focusing on reopening all the schools. There was also considerable opposition to the board’s introduction of a lottery admissions system for a prestigious high school, in lieu of the previous use of grades and exam scores.


Another trend is how relatively few immigrants are woke. Latinos in particular seem more open to the Republican Party, or at least don’t seem to have strong partisan attachments. More generally, immigrant political views are more diverse than many people think, even within the Democratic Party.


Wokeism is likely to evolve into a subculture that is highly educated, highly White and fairly feminine. That is still a large mass of people, but not enough to run the country or all its major institutions. In the San Francisco school board recall, for instance, the role of Asian Americans was especially prominent.

In addition:

The woke also are likely to achieve an even greater hold over American universities. Due to the tenure system, personnel turnover is low, and currently newer and younger faculty are more left-wing than are older faculty, including in my field of economics. The simple march of retirements is going to make universities even more left-wing — and even more out of touch with mainstream America.

I hereby inscribe this prediction in The Book of Tetlock.

Jessica Flanigan interviews me and I interview her back

She teaches at University of Richmond, and writes philosophy from perspectives that are broadly libertarian and also Christian.  We spoke about many different matters, as she interviewed me as I interview guests on CWT.  Some of the chat focused on my views on higher education.  When I interview her back, it is mostly about the scope and limits of paternalism.

It was very nice to do another public event with a live audience.  And ignore the talk title, it was about only five percent of the session.

There will be three JPEs

We are pleased to announce that the Journal of Political Economy is launching two new journals under the JPE umbrella. The Journal of Political Economy Macroeconomics and Journal of Political Economy Microeconomics will broaden the scope of high-quality theoretical and empirical papers published by the JPE journals.

That is from my email.  One meta-lesson is that to date brand names in academic journals have been underexploited for a long time!

Progresa after 20 Years

Remember the Mexican cash transfer program, sometimes used to support education?  Some new results are in, and the program is looking pretty good:

In 1997, the Mexican government designed the conditional cash transfer program Progresa, which became the
worldwide model of a new approach to social programs, simultaneously targeting human capital accumulation
and poverty reduction. A large literature has documented the short and medium-term impacts of the Mexican
program and its successors in other countries. Using Progresa’s experimental evaluation design originally rolled out in 1997-2000, and a tracking survey conducted 20 years later, this paper studies the differential long-termimpacts of exposure to Progresa. We focus on two cohorts of children: i) those that during the period of differential exposure were in-utero or in the first years of life, and ii) those who during the period of differential exposure were transitioning from primary to secondary school. Results for the early childhood cohort, 18–20-year-old at endline, shows that differential exposure to Progresa during the early years led to positive impacts on educational attainment and labor income expectations. This constitutes unique long-term evidence on the returns of an at-scale intervention on investments in human capital during the first 1000 days of life. Results for the school cohort – in their early 30s at endline – show that the short-term impacts of differential exposure to Progresa on schooling were sustained in the long-run and manifested themselves in larger labor incomes, more geographical mobility including through international migration, and later family formation.

Here is the full paper by M. Caridad Araujo and Karen Macours from Poverty Action Lab.

No one cared about Bryan’s spreadsheets

From Bryan:

The most painful part of writing The Case Against Education was calculating the return to education.  I spent fifteen months working on the spreadsheets.  I came up with the baseline case, did scores of “variations on a theme,”  noticed a small mistake or blind alley, then started over.  Several programmer friends advised me to learn a new programming language like Python to do everything automatically, but I’m 98% sure that would have taken even longer – and introduced numerous additional errors into the results.  I did plenty of programming in my youth, and I know my limitations.

I took quality control very seriously.  About half a dozen friends gave up whole days of their lives to sit next to me while I gave them a guided tour of the reasoning behind my number-crunching.  Four years before the book’s publication, I publicly released the spreadsheets, and asked the world to “embarrass me now” by finding errors in my work.  If memory serves, one EconLog reader did find a minor mistake.  When the book finally came out, I published final versions of all the spreadsheets underlying the book’s return to education calculations.  A one-to-one correspondence between what’s in the book and what I shared with the world.  Full transparency.

Now guess what?  Since the 2018 publication of The Case Against Education, precisely zero people have emailed me about those spreadsheets.  The book enjoyed massive media attention.  My results were ultra-contrarian: my preferred estimate of the Social Return to Education is negative for almost every demographic.  I loudly used these results to call for massive cuts in education spending.  Yet since the book’s publication, no one has bothered to challenge my math.  Not publicly.  Not privately.  No one cared about my spreadsheets.

Here is more from Bryan Caplan.  I would make a few points:

1. Work is hardly ever checked, unless a particular paper becomes politically focal in some kind of partisan dispute.  You can take this as a sign that Bryan has not dented the political consensus so much, a point I think he would agree with.

2. Researchers discuss and consider your work in a particular area far, far more if you are an insider in that area, making the seminar circuit at top schools.  To be clear, Bryan’s work is discussed far more by intelligent humans who are not education researchers, compared to what virtually all of the education researchers have produced.  Bryan writes in internet space, where the barriers to entry are much lower.  Good for him, I say (duh), but of course not everyone wishes to lower the entry barriers in this manner.  And internet writing does have entry barriers of its own.  For instance, Bryan has been blogging steadily for many years, which many researchers simply do not wish to do or maybe cannot do well at all.

3. Overall I think we are entering a world where “research” and “idea production” are increasingly separate endeavors.  And the latter is moving to the internet, even when it is supplemented by non-internet crystallizations such as books.  Bryan’s ideas, of course, have been germinating on EconLog for some time before his education book came out.  Do you like this new world?  What are its promises and dangers?

How to negotiate your assistant professor salary

Jennifer Doleac writes:

I’ve discovered a new passion for helping junior women in econ negotiate better job offers. It’s easier to see what you deserve from the outside (always: more than they are offering…)

Great!  Here are a few tips from me, not just for women, noting that I am going to skip over the super-important “make sure you are in high demand” kind of advice.  I am assuming you already have an offer in hand, and wish to make the most of it.

1. Make sure they have made you the full offer before responding in any way, other than with polite enthusiasm.  That means salary, teaching load, moving expenses, faculty housing options, length of contract, research and travel fund, and anything else you might care about, such as a joint appointment.  Don’t respond to any one bit of it until you have drawn out all the blood from the source.

2. You don’t have anything until it is in writing.  Duh.

3. It is fine to ask the departmental chair what else you might ask for.  In such matters the chair is usually (but not always) on your side.  In any case, this is not a faux pas.

4. Very often the components of your offer come from distinct pools of money or resources, controlled by different agents.  You want to “tap” on each and every part of the offer, to see if it might be flexible.  Inflexibility on one part of the offer does not have to mean inflexibility on all the other parts.  Different pots of money!  So ask for more along all margins, but do so politely.  Rudeness doesn’t help with these kinds of bureaucracies.

5. In most situations you can get a small amount extra by bargaining over the salary, and indeed you should.  But you cannot get much more unless you have a written offer in hand from another place for a higher salary.  Recognize your limitations.  And a higher salary offer from a non-academic source often means zero in this bargaining game.  You can’t expect anything close to a match.  At best it will be an excuse for them to bump you up a few more thousand dollars.

6. It is fine to ask for a semi-formal commitment on what you might teach, but do not expect this to be put in writing.  Odds are it will be honored, but not 100% for sure.  “I would like to teach in your honors sequence” is a perfectly legitimate ask, if appropriate to the situation.

7. Always ask for a course off for your first year, at the very least.  And learn what will be the future rate for buying out of courses.

8. Most generally, while you should always be polite, “them liking you” is not an outcome you are looking to achieve at this stage of the game.  They can like you plenty later.  Probably you should feel just a little uneasy that perhaps you are asking for too much.

9. As for women in particular, there is a literature suggesting that possibly women do not bargain hard enough in the workplace.  Whatever stance you take on this broader question, if you are a women at least ask — and check with some mentors — as to whether you are making this mistake.  Actually men should do this too.

10. You do have a limited ability to ask for an extension on your offer and when you must say yes or no.  But do not think you can stretch this too far, and it is often not in the interests of the school, or for that matter the department and chair, to give you much leeway here.  Basically you want to do this to drum up a better offer from elsewhere, and they know this.

What else?  Here is my earlier post on exploding offers.

“Context is that which is scarce”

A number of you have been asking me about this maxim, so here is some background on what it means:

1. Ever try to persuade another person?  Let’s say it is even of an uncontested idea such as supply and demand.  You might “final exam them into admitting that the demand curve slopes downward.”  But still, if they do not understand enough of the uses of supply and demand thinking, they will find it hard to think in terms of supply and demand themselves.  They will not have the background context to understand the import of the idea.

2. Why did economists for so long stick with cost of production theories of value, rather than adopting the marginal revolution?  They didn’t see or understand all the possibilities that would open up from bringing the marginal calculus to microeconomics, and then later to empirical work.  Given the context they had, which was for performing simple comparative statics experiments on developing economies, the cost of production theory seemed good enough.

3. One correspondent from a successful company wrote me:

“- I’ve been onboarding ~5 people every two weeks for my team.
– The number of them that actually learn all the important stuff in under a month is zero. The number of them that have a self-guided strategy to learn what is relevant is almost zero.
– Remember these are people with fancy college degrees, that passed a hard interview, and are getting paid $X00k!
– I’m now spending entire days writing / maintaining an FAQ, producing diagrams, and having meetings with them to answer their questions.”

4. Ever wonder about the vast universe of critically acclaimed aesthetic masterworks, most of which you do not really fathom?  If you dismiss them, and mistrust the critics, odds are that you are wrong and they are right.  You do not have the context to appreciate those works.  That is fine, but no reason to dismiss that which you do not understand.  The better you understand context, the more likely you will see how easily you can be missing out on it.

5. I use “modern art” or “contemporary art” (both bad terms, by the way) as good benchmarks for whether a person understands “context is that which is scarce.”  “Contemporary classical music” too (another bad terms, but you know what I mean).  If a person is convinced that those are absurd enterprises, that is a good litmus test for that person not understanding the import of context.  You may not prefer things to be this way, but in many cultural areas appreciation of the outputs demands more and more context (Adam Smith called this division of labor, by the way).

6. If you think a great deal of things are “downstream from culture and ideas,” as I do, you also have to think they are downstream of context.

7. Many attributions of bad motives to people, or attributions of conspiracy, spring from a lack of understanding of context.  It is easy enough for someone to seem like he or she is “operating in bad faith.”  But usually a deeper and better understanding is available.

8. Lack of context is often a serious problem on Twitter and other forms of social media, as they may deliberately truncate context.  In some parts of our culture, context is growing more scarce.  “When I’m Sixty-Four” makes much more sense on Sgt. Pepper than it does on Spotify.

9. So much of education is teaching people context.  That is why it is hard, and also why it often does not seem like real learning.

10. When judging people for leadership positions, or for jobs that require strongly synthetic abilities, you should consider how well they are capable of generating an understanding of context across a broad range of domains, including ex nihilo, so to speak.  How to test for understanding of context is itself a topic we could consider in more depth.

Addendum: MR, by the way, or at least my contributions to it, is deliberately written to give you less than full context.  It is assumed that you are up to speed on the relevant discourse, and are hungering for the latest tidbit on top of where you are currently standing.  Conversations with Tyler also are conducted on a “I’m just going to assume you have the relevant context and jump right in” — that is not ideal for many people, or they may like the performance art of it without it furthering their understanding optimally.  But it keeps me motivated because for me the process is rarely boring.  I figure that is more important than keeping you all happy.  It also attracts smarter and better informed readers and listeners, which in turn helps me keep smart and alert.  I view my context decisions, in particular the choice to go “minimal upfront context” in so many settings, as essential to my ongoing program of self-education.

Do interviews matter?

Yes, interviews very much do matter.

You may have read articles like the one that Sarah Laskow wrote a few years ago in The Boston Globe, “Want the Best Person for the Job? Don’t Interview,” or the one Jason Dana published in The New York Times, “The Utter Uselessness of Job Interviews.” These and other stories make the all too familiar claim that interviews do not boost your ability to spot the better job candidates. You might then wonder whether interviews, or trying to improve your interview skills, are worth your while.

This common myth of interview impotence misses the point. At the very least, interviews can help you rule out some candidates quickly. But the main reason why virtually all top companies stick with doing interviews is that interviews yield useful information.

Most importantly, many of the research studies pessimistic about interviewing focus on unstructured interviews performed by relatively unskilled interviewers for relatively uninteresting, entry-level jobs. You can do better. Even if it were true that interviews do not on average improve candidate selection, that is a statement about averages, not about what is possible. You still would have the power, if properly talented and intellectually equipped, to beat the market averages. In fact, the worse a job the world as a whole is at doing interviews, the more reason to believe there are highly talented candidates just waiting to be found by you.

In most of the studies on this subject, interviews were more effective for higher-level jobs. So if you wish to hire an economist, Tyler believes that asking a person substantive economics questions during an interview is a good way to start assessing their competence, though to our knowledge this never has been proven or disproven in study form. Daniel believes that if you wish to fund an applicant for venture capital, it is worth asking about the business plan to see how well the basic idea is presented and defended. If they can’t make a case for it to you, they’ll probably have trouble attracting talent to help them. The anti-interview crowd, many of whom are centered in academia, overlooks these obvious truths.

Interviews also play a crucial role in recruiting candidates and helping spread a positive impression of you and your company, even in cases where you don’t end up hiring the person. So put aside any inclination to skip or devalue this part of the process. Interviews are essential, and, because so many organizations rely on mindless bureaucratic approaches, the bar is low and the payoff high.

Footnote: For one typical anti-interview piece, see Sarah Laskow, “Want the Best Person for the Job? Don’t Interview,” The Boston Globe, November 24, 2013. Or see Jason Dana, “The Utter Uselessness of Job Interviews,” The New York Times, April 8, 2017, a poorly titled piece that refers primarily to a single specific study. On a meta-analysis regarding the value of structured interviews, see Allen I. Huffcutt and Winfred Arthur Jr., “Hunter and Hunter (1984) Revisited: Interview Validity for Entry-Level Jobs,” Journal of Applied Psychology 79, no. 2 (1994): 184–190. See also Therese Macan, “The Employment Interview: A Review of Current Studies and Directions for Future Research,” Human Resource Management Review 19 (2009): 201–218, for a more recent examination of the same questions.

That is all from my forthcoming book with Daniel Gross Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World.  Most of the chapter of course is devoted to how to get the most out of an interview.  Due out May 17, you can pre-order here for Amazon, here for Barnes & Noble.

Are semesters or quarters better?

There exists a long-standing debate in higher education on which academic calendar is optimal. Using panel data on the near universe of four-year nonprofit institutions and leveraging quasi-experimental variation in calendars across institutions and years, we show that switching from quarters to semesters negatively impacts on-time graduation rates. Event study analyses show that the negative effects persist beyond the transition. Using transcript data, we replicate this analysis at the student level and investigate possible mechanisms. Shifting to a semester: (i) lowers first-year grades, (ii) decreases the
probability of enrolling in a full course load, and (iii) delays the timing of major choice.

That is from a newly published paper by Valerie Bostwick, Stefanie Fischer, and Matthew Lang.

Having been a longtime proponent of a quarter system, which I did teach under at UC Irvine, I am happy to see these results.  My hypothesis, which to be clear is not confirmed per se by this data, is that classes are too long.  Much of a class is the “option value” on “this professor is the one that inspires me.”  The returns to such inspiration are enormous, but of course it usually does not happen.  But when it does happen, usually the “click” occurs before week ten.  So we should arrange academic schedules to give students access to a greater number of professors.  Holding workload constant, that means individual courses should be shorter.

Of course, if you click with a particular professor, you can take more classes with them or otherwise work with them.  So “ten weeks isn’t enough” to me is not such a biting criticism.  The real problem is when you are stuck at zero with your possibly appropriate mentor.

In fact I think the quarter system doesn’t go far enough.  I think we should have many more one- and two-week classes, or five-week classes, as well.  Understandably that is more difficult to manage operationally, but I don’t see any reason why it should be impossible.  Companies solve more complex scheduling problems than that all the time.

If I think of GMU, either the undergraduate majors, or the graduate students, should in my opinion have had some classroom time with almost every single instructor.  So much of life and productivity is about matching!