Category: Education

What should I ask Shaka Senghor?

I will be having a Conversation with Shaka, no associated public event.  So what should I ask him?  Here is the main part of his Wikipedia page:

Shaka Senghor is director’s fellow of the MIT Media Lab, college lecturer, author, and was convicted of murder in American courts. As of October 2015, he also teaches a class as part of the Atonement Project, a partnership between him, the University of Michigan, and the MIT Media Lab. His memoir, Writing my Wrongs, was published in March 2016. Senghor was named to Oprah’s SuperSoul 100 list of visionaries and influential leaders in 2016.

And here is Shaka’s home page.  I thank you all in advance for your suggestions.

Academic vita fraud?

recent study of 180 academic curricula vitae found that 56 percent that claimed to have at least one publication contained at least one unverifiable or inaccurate publication, and it suggests that CV falsification could be much more common than scholars committed to professional integrity might hope. The study is small — the 56 percent reflects only 79 CVs, of 141 that claimed to have at least one publication. The researchers behind the study make no presumption as to whether the errors were intentional.

Here is further information from Megan Zahneis.

Summers on the Wealth Tax

Larry Summers is my favorite liberal economist because even while maintaining his liberal values he never stops thinking like an economist. That makes him suspect among the left but it means that he is always worth listening to. The video below with Saez, Summers and Mankiw (with Rampell moderating) is excellent throughout. I cribbed a number of points from Summers:

“I have studied last week’s twitter war very carefully and I have to say that I am 98.5% convinced by the critics that the Zucman-Saez data are substantially inaccurate and misleading.”

The arguments around political power are not persuasive. Most of what is wrong with politics is because that is what the people want (I’m filling in a bit here from comments throughout). A wealth tax does nothing about corporate lobbying and would increase the incentive to give to political organizations. If you cut wealth at the top by 30% that wouldn’t change relative political power in the slightest.

Wealth is up in large part because interest rates are down which means that permanent income hasn’t increased.

Forced savings programs like social security and unemployment insurance mean that people at the bottom need to save less and thus their wealth falls even as their welfare increases.

A wealth tax increases the incentive to consume instead of save and invest.

On employee stock ownership plans: “When you put workers in control of firms and you give them substantial control–see Israeli kibbutz’s, see Yugoslav cooperatives, see universities where faculties have a powerful voice–the one thing you do not get is expansion. You get more for the people who are already there. That does not seem to be an attractive position for progressives.”

In the Q&A Summers just goes to town on Saez when Saez claims 90% tax rates are a great American invention. “The people who were around in the Kennedy administration who were at least as progressive as you are were united in the belief that 90% tax rates were a bad idea….The number of people who paid those 90% tax rates was trivial and it wasn’t because there weren’t a lot of rich people.”  Greg Mankiw, who gives a nice parable in his remarks, has to stifle a laugh as Summers lets rip.

The body language in the Q&A is very interesting.

Facebook and privacy

Oops, this blog post isn’t about Facebook at all!  Here goes:

Records and interviews show that colleges are building vast repositories of data on prospective students — scanning test scores, Zip codes, high school transcripts, academic interests, Web browsing histories, ethnic backgrounds and household incomes for clues about which students would make the best candidates for admission. At many schools, this data is used to give students a score from 1 to 100, which determines how much attention colleges pay them in the recruiting process.

Admissions consulting companies charge schools tens of thousands of dollars a year to collect and analyze the data of millions of students. In emails reviewed by The Post, employees of Louisville-based Capture Higher Ed urged school administrators to hand over all data they felt comfortable sharing.

“We love data, so the more the merrier,” one of Capture’s consultants wrote in a 2017 email to the admissions director at UW-Stout.

The more the merrier!  And did you know that The New York Times will sell subscriber data about you?

Here is the full article, via the excellent Samir Varma.

The O-Ring Model of Development

Michael Kremer’s Nobel prize (with Duflo and Banerjee) reminded me of his important paper The O-Ring Theory of Development. I also rewatched my video on this paper from Tyler’s and my online class, Development Economics. This was from our powerpoint and iPad days so there are no fancy graphics but the video holds up! Mostly because it’s a great model with lots of interesting implications not just for development but also for the structure of the US economy. See also Jason Collins on Garett Jones’s extension of the model.

Michael Kremer, Nobel laureate

To Alex’s excellent treatment I will add a short discussion of Kremer’s work on deworming (with co-authors, most of all Edward Miguel), here is one summary treatment:

Intestinal helminths—including hookworm, roundworm, whipworm, and schistosomiasis—infect more than one-quarter of the world’s population. Studies in which medical treatment is randomized at the individual level potentially doubly underestimate the benefits of treatment, missing externality benefits to the comparison group from reduced disease transmission, and therefore also underestimating benefits for the treatment group. We evaluate a Kenyan project in which school-based mass treatment with deworming drugs was randomly phased into schools, rather than to individuals, allowing estimation of overall program effects. The program reduced school absenteeism in treatment schools by one-quarter, and was far cheaper than alternative ways of boosting school participation. Deworming substantially improved health and school participation among untreated children in both treatment schools and neighboring schools, and these externalities are large enough to justify fully subsidizing treatment. Yet we do not find evidence that deworming improved academic test scores.

If you do not today have a worm, there is some chance you have Michael Kremer to thank!

With Blanchard, Kremer also has an excellent and these days somewhat neglected piece on central planning and complexity:

Under central planning, many firms relied on a single supplier for critical inputs. Transition has led to decentralized bargaining between suppliers and buyers. Under incomplete contracts or asymmetric information, bargaining may inefficiently break down, and if chains of production link many specialized producers, output will decline sharply. Mechanisms that mitigate these problems in the West, such as reputation, can only play a limited role in transition. The empirical evidence suggests that output has fallen farthest for the goods with the most complex production process, and that disorganization has been more important in the former Soviet Union than in Central Europe.

Kremer with co-authors also did excellent work on the benefits of school vouchers in Colombia.  And here is Kremer’s work on teacher incentives — incentives matter!  His early piece on wage inequality with Maskin, from 1996, was way ahead of its time.  And don’t forget his piece on peer effects and alcohol use: many college students think the others are drinking more than in fact they are, and publicizing the lower actual level of drinking can diminish alcohol abuse problems.  The Hajj has an impact on the views of its participants, and “… these results suggest that students become more empathetic with the social groups to which their roommates belong,.” link here.

And don’t forget his famous paper titled “Elephants.”  Under some assumptions, the government should buy up a large stock of ivory tusks, and dump them on the market strategically, to ruin the returns of elephant speculators at just the right time.  No one has ever worked through the issue before of how to stop speculation in such forbidden and undesirable commodities.

Michael Kremer has produced a truly amazing set of papers.

Abhijit Banerjee reminiscenses

Abhijit and I were in the same first year class at Harvard, and I have two especially strong memories of him from that time.

First, he was always willing to help out those who were not as advanced in the class work as he was.  Furthermore, that was literally everyone else.  He was very generous with his time.

Second, when it came to the first-year Macro final (I don’t mean the comprehensive exams), Andy Abel wrote a problem with dynamic programming, which was Andy’s main research area at the time.  Abhijit showed that the supposed correct answer was in fact wrong, that the equilibrium upon testing was degenerate, and he re-solved the problem correctly, finding some multiple equilibria if I recall correctly, all more than what Abel had seen and Abel wrote the problem.  Abhijit got an A+ (Abel, to his credit, was not shy about reporting this).

One of my favorite Abhijit papers is “On Frequent Flyer Programs and other Loyalty-Inducing Economic Arrangements,” with Larry Summers.  I believe it was published QJE 1987, but somehow the jstor link does not show up from google searches.  This was one of the first papers to show how consumer loyalty programs could segment the market and have collusive effects.

Another favorite Abjihit paper of mine is his job market paper, “The Economics of Rumours,” later published in ReStud 1993.  Have you ever wondered “if this rumor is true, why haven’t I heard it before?”  Abhijit works through the logic of the model on that one, in a scintillating performance.  It turns out this paper is now highly relevant for analyzing information transmission through social media.

Abhijit is the clearest case I know of a brilliant theorist who decided the future was with empirical work — he was right.  Nonetheless his early theory papers are still worthy of attention.  When Abhijit went on the job market, his letter writers suggested he might someday win a Nobel Prize, so strong were his talents.  They were right, but I suspect they had no idea for what the prize in fact would turn out to be.

How to Work and Sleep at the Same Time

An amazing result:

Many people have claimed that sleep has helped them solve a difficult problem, but empirical support for this assertion remains tentative. The current experiment tested whether manipulating information processing during sleep impacts problem incubation and solving. In memory studies, delivering learning-associated sound cues during sleep can reactivate memories. We therefore predicted that reactivating previously unsolved problems could help people solve them. In the evening, we presented 57 participants with puzzles, each arbitrarily associated with a different sound. While participants slept overnight, half of the sounds associated with the puzzles they had not solved were surreptitiously presented. The next morning, participants solved 31.7% of cued puzzles, compared with 20.5% of uncued puzzles (a 55% improvement). Moreover, cued-puzzle solving correlated with cued-puzzle memory. Overall, these results demonstrate that cuing puzzle information during sleep can facilitate solving, thus supporting sleep’s role in problem incubation and establishing a new technique to advance understanding of problem solving and sleep cognition.

Hat tip: Kevin Lewis.

China fact of the day

Any Chinese person who has gone to elementary school or watched television news can explain the tale of China’s 100 years of humiliation. Starting with the Opium Wars in the 19th century, foreign powers bullied a weak and backward China into turning Hong Kong and Macau into European colonies. Students must memorize the unequal treaties the Qing dynasty signed during that period.

There’s even a name for it: “national humiliation education.”

Here is more from Li Yuan at the NYT.

Do Social Media Harm the Mental Health of Youth? Probably Not.

Time spent on social media has been blamed for increased suicides and depression, just as were other new technologies and pastimes such as phones and Dungeons and Dragons.

… but is social media the real culprit? Or are we engaged in a moral panic, perhaps not understanding the root of the problem? One major limitation of the current literature is that the vast majority of research on SNSs and mental health are cross sectional and cannot speak to developmental change over time or direction of effects. Additionally, research to date rely on traditional regression techniques that model between-person relations among variables. These techniques ignore individual processes that are vital to our understanding of the true relationship between these variables. Thus, the aim of the current study is to test a causal model of the associations between time spent using social media and mental health (anxiety and depression), using both between and within subjects analyses, over an 8-year-period of time, encompassing the transition between adolescence and emerging adulthood.

That’s from an impressive, 8-year long study. It’s not a random experiment but this is the most credible research on the question I have read to date.

Of course, this raises the question of why mental health is down and fragility is up among the young. One answer is that the evidence on mental fragility is flimsy, which is true in general, but the data on suicides is reasonably good and suicides among youth have increased a lot since 2000. I’m not sure of the answers but although social media fit the time trend I now down weight that explanation.

Hat tip: The awesome Rolf Degen.

My education podcast with Can Olcer

#7 Tyler Cowen (GMU) on less homework, Swiss science culture, and low university completion rates

In this episode with Tyler Cowen we talk about a broad range of topics. For example, why it’s important that students have less homework, the Swiss science culture, and the low university completion rates.

Here is the link, here is Can on Twitter.  Can currently runs Kosmos School, a K-12 science school realized through Virtual Reality.

More me on Harvard admissions

Now consider that America’s top universities are among the most ideologically “left-wing” institutions in the country. At Harvard, for instance, 84% of faculty donations to political parties and political action committees from 2011 to 2014 went in the Democratic direction. The Democrats, of course, are supposed to be the party opposed to income inequality. So what has gone wrong here? Why should these elites be trusted?

If any institution should be able to buck social trends, it is Harvard. It has an endowment of about $39 billion (circa 2018), its top administrators are employable elsewhere, and most of its significant faculty hold tenured positions. It might also have the world’s best academic reputation, and it could fill its entering class with top students even after taking a big reputational or financial hit.

Here is the rest of my Bloomberg column, some parts in full mood affiliation mode.

From the comments — the power of professors

The PhD is a credential that graduate students need, and which the supervising professor uses to hold power over them. Doing away with the PhD as a valuable credential takes power away from professors. That may not bother Tyler, but most professors covet and zealously protect whatever institutional and personal power they can grasp.

That is from Tom Meadowcraft, commenting on my proposal to limit economics graduate study to three years.