In Memoriam

Tennyson is a poet I have come to relatively late in life, but I find increasing resonance in his works. As 9/11 is upon us, I would like to offer the following in remembrance:

Tears, Idle Tears

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.

Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld,
Sad as the last which reddens over one
That sinks with all we love below the verge;
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.

Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
The earliest pipe of half-awakened birds
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.

Dear as remembered kisses after death,
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feigned
On lips that are for others; deep as love,
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
O Death in Life, the days that are no more.

The next Fed chairman?

The popular press has begun to mention Martin Feldstein as a possible successor to Alan Greenspan. The other listed candidates, Stanley Fischer and Larry Summers, probably do not have sufficient “right-wing credentials” to get the job. Feldstein offers some recent thoughts on monetary policy. He also endorsed the Bush tax cuts, arguably a sign that he is angling for the job. Feldstein tends to favor targeted fiscal incentives in lieu of traditional Keynesian remedies. Overall he commands the respect of his peers and has had significant administrative experience in building up the National Bureau of Economic Research. But it is hard to tell what kind of monetary policy he would pursue, and how strong an independent stance he could define, if he held the office.

Movies for entrepreneurs

The new (and excellent) culture blog www.2blowhards.com directs our attention toward “Movies for Entrepreneurs”, by www.startupgarden.com, which offers resources for the teaching of entrepreneurship. The six movies chosen, for having significant lessons for entrepreneurs, are the following: Groundhog Day, The Music Man, Ghostbusters, Run Lola Run, Jerry Maguire, and Mary Poppins. The link offers plenty of explanation for these choices. What about Tucker: The Man and his Dream, starring Jeff Bridges, about the revolution in automobile design? And read this for their take on Monty Python and entrepreneurship.

Productivity puzzles, or are we seeing a miracle?

Here is the ever-insightful Brad DeLong on why the current productivity and employment data are so hard to understand. Read Brad here and here (a longer, more technical post) for more context. The key point is this: many companies are prospering, and increasing absolute output, even as they are laying off workers. The implied numbers for productivity increases, per remaining worker, are simply astounding.

Why do intellectuals oppose capitalism?

This essay by the deceased Robert Nozick has a few years on it, but I never knew there was an on-line version. It is the best piece I know on why so many intellectuals oppose capitalism. See my earlier blog post on the inability of some researchers to find a single registered Republican within some departments of MIT and other universities (of course Republicans commonly fail capitalism but I suspect that is not the objection of the MIT faculty). With thanks to Cato, Newmarksdoor, and BrianMicklethwait.com.

Here is one excellent sentence of many:

“The intellectual wants the whole society to be a school writ large.”

Bhagwati criticizes the WTO

Read this on how the WTO is becoming a forum to regulate the behavior of the poorer nations, rather than bring free trade. Eminent trade economist Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University calls WTO a “sham,” and a “legal…straitjacket of do’s and don’ts…”

Here is a money quote:

“The developing countries are scared out of their wits now,” Bhagwati says, “because they don’t understand what they’re being forced to sign. The agreements are going way outside the trade issues and involve a helluva lot of things like your access to oil, your access to intellectual property and capital controls…. When I looked through the investment agreements, it was worse than reading my insurance policy for the fine print. I couldn’t make anything out of it, and I’m a reasonably informed person, a pretty smart economist as they go.”

Mars in the Balance?

According to an article in the 23 Aug. issue of New Scientist magazine (unfortunately not available online to non-subscribers) scientists have been “absolutely shocked” to find that glaciers in the south pole have been “eroding at a rate of 3 meters per year or more.” According to one scientist “all the visible ice, all the carbon dioxide that we see in the ‘permanent’ ice cap could be eroded in less than a century.”

The scientists agree that the only plausible explanation of what they are seeing is “climate change” but none of them think that humans are to blame. Why not? The scientists are talking about Mars. The article doesn’t make the connection but it seems to me that global warming on Mars raises the plausibility of claims by global warming skeptics that solar activity could be responsible for much climate change on Earth. Here is a picture from Friis-Christensen and Lassen’s 1991 paper on this issue in Science (link to JSTOR, click on the picture to expand).

sunspots.JPG

Do you know what made you happy?

Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman is engaged in some fascinating work, read this summary:

“…the duration of an experience plays essentially no role when evaluating how well it becomes etched in our memories.

Kahneman believes the most direct way to evaluate experienced utility is to ask people how they feel at a certain moment, a notion he calls “moment utility.”…But because researchers are more interested in extended outcomes, more often the question they ask is memory-based: “How was it?” Kahneman said this is a different question that reflects the individual’s global evaluation of an entire episode in the past and it may not be a direct assessment of the individual’s real-time state. This “remembered utility,” said Kahneman, is not a very good guide when predicting outcomes. The “total utility” of a state is derived from the moment-based approach of measuring the real time pleasure or pain experienced by the individual.”

In other words, one of our selves does the living, another keeps the memories.

“”When people make decisions, the remembering self is in control, Kahneman explained. “We make our decisions in terms of our memories and basically, we maximize remembered utility, not the actual total utility,” he said. “The only thing we can learn to maximize through personal experience is remembered utility.””

And don’t you forget that.

Also read our earlier blog posts on whether people understand their own happiness, here, and here.

If Shemekia were Sally would she earn more?

Steve Levitt, recenty profiled in the NYT Magazine has written another amazing and sure to be controversial paper. Levitt and co-author Roland Fryer begin The Causes and Consequences of Black Names with some startling statistics on the racial divide in names. For example, “more than forty percent of Black girls born in California in recent years received a name that not one of the roughly 100,000 white girls born in California in that year was given.” Blacks are more segregated by name than are other races – the majority of Asians, for example, choose from the same name-pool as do whites. Segregation by naming has also increased over time. Prior to the late 1960s, for example, blacks and whites chose from the same name-pool to much greater degree than they do today.

Other studies have shown that when sent resumes identical but for name, employers more frequently ask for follow-up interviews with applicants who have stereotypical white names. Levitt and Fryer respond to these studies in two ways. The first response I find unconvincing. They argue that it is unlikely that a black name could have a big impact on earnings because “Once an employer has met a candidate in person, race is directly observable. A person’s manner of speaking, dress, interview responses and on-the-job performance no doubt provide far better signals of productivity than a name.” No doubt – but this is a rather facile interpretation of the audit studies. The point of these studies was not the literal one that employers discriminate on the basis of a person’s name! The point is that if employers use names to discriminate on race at the resume stage then they probably discriminate on race at every other stage in ways that are harder to identify.

Levitt and Fry have a more convincing but sure to be controversial response to this larger issue. They find that black names signal a variety of other characteristics that could plausibly be connected with lower labor productivity. Here is a key quote:

a woman with a BNI equal to one (implying a name that no Whites have) is 10 percentage points more likely to have been born to a teenage mother and 9 percentage points more likely to have been born out-of-wedlock than a Black woman living in the same zip code with the same age and education, but carrying a name that is equally common among White and Blacks. The woman with a Black name is also more likely to have been born in a Black neighborhood and to herself be unmarried.

In other words, names carry information even after the typical information available on a resume has been taken into account and the information that especially black names carry plausibly suggests lower productivity. It’s papers like this that explain why professors need tenure.

Who are the most partisan columnists?

Lyinginponds.com provides a running tab on which media writers toe a particular political line. The “winners” for the Total Partisanship Index are the following individuals, with 100 on the scale meaning pure partisanship:

Ann Coulter – 77
Paul Krugman – 74
Robert Scheer – 72
Molly Ivins – 68
Frank Rich – 61

The numbers try to measure how much the writer sides with one political party rather than the other. Click on the links for full explanations of the various indices.

Are student evaluations a good idea?

Here is Michael Huemer’s very interesting critique of student evaluations of professors, full of cites and links. Yes, student evaluations correlate positively with other measures of teaching effectiveness. Take multiple sections of the same course and give a common final exam, the correlation is in the neighborhood of 0.4 to 0.5.

On the other hand, a professor gets a much better evaluations if students think they will get good grades. The statistical correlations are strong and hard to deny. And in one study 70 percent of students admitted that their evaluation was influenced by the grade they expected to get. See this game theory article on how one-shot reciprocity can work.

In one survey, 38 percent of professors admitted to dumbing down their courses to get better evaluations.

Cosmetic factors such as appearance have a big influence on evaluations.

Huemer offers no policy conclusion. He does note that ratings by colleagues and other observers do not agree with each other very much and thus cannot stand as a serious alternative.

If you are curious, I could not find Huemer’s student evaluations through a web search.

Global warming update

Fungi under the snow may contribute significantly to CO2 levels, according to this Washington Post article (brief registration required). Here is one bit:

“We’re living in a world where global warming is a constant threat, but in fact we have relatively little knowledge of what the inputs and outputs are for CO2.” said Steven Miller, a mycologist, or fungus specialist, at the University of Wyoming.”

Here is another:

“…global warming models can no longer ignore fungi in snowy regions and seasons as they have, scientists said – especially because about 40 percent of Earth’s landmass is covered with snow for at least part of the year.”

I am not one of those economists who wishes that global warming would go away, and simply assumes that science is on my side, or reads the evidence selectively. And of course items such as this can be cause for either optimism or pessimism, what if fungi under the snow contribute to a crisis rather than easing it? Still, Bush was not crazy to refuse to go along with Kyoto.