Education in Finland, recipe for success?

Consider the following facts:

1. Finnish children do not start school until they are seven years old. Most Finnish children do start day care from about the age of one, given that most mothers work.

2. Educational spending is a very modest $5,000 per student per year.

3. There are few if any programs for gifted children.

4. Class sizes often approach 30.

5. “Finland topped a respected international [educational] survey last year, coming in first in literacy and placing in the top five in math and science.”

6. Finnish teachers all have a Master’s degree or more.

7. Finnish teachers all enjoy a very high social status.

8. Reading to children, telling them folk tales, and going to the library are all high status activities.

9. TV programs are often in English, and subtitled, which further supports reading skills. (This should also serve as a jab to those who complain about the global spread of American TV shows.)

Here is the full story from The New York Times. Here is a general overview of the Finnish educational system, here is another. Here is a summary of the OECD study, with additional rankings and instructions on how to get a complete copy. Here is a story on Finnish economic competitiveness.

My take: The United States performs remarkably well when it harnesses status and approbational incentives in the right direction. We have done this for business entrepreneurship, but we are not close when it comes to education. When it comes to economics, we have to move away from our near-exclusive emphasis on monetary incentives.

China fact of the day

I remain disappointed by how our media underreport the news from China. Here is one possibly major development:

China will kick off reform of its publishing system by transforming the country’s publishing houses from public service institutions into business-oriented enterprises, an official from the Regulations Bureau of China’s Press and Publication Administration (CPPA), who wished to remain anonymous, told Interfax in an interview.

All publishing houses in China, except for the People’s Publishing House, will undergo this reform. The People’s Publishing House, meanwhile, will remain a public service institution. China currently has approximately 527 publishing houses, of which 20 to 30 are private enterprises. Most of these private publishers are engaged in publishing books.

“An experimental batch of publishing houses has been selected and their reshuffling and reform will be finished by the end of 2004,” the CPPA official explained. “Related information will not be publicized before the publishing system reforms are completed.”

Here is yet some further good news:

According to China’s WTO obligations, the retail book market will be open to foreign investment without any restriction after December 1, 2004. Foreign investors will have the final say in investment proportion, business fields and sales locations. Private investment will also be encouraged.

Here is the full (albeit brief) story. No, I don’t expect Chinese censorship to go away, but many restrictions are easing:

In 2003, the Party ordered reform for the whole cultural system. Some magazines and newspapers were no longer offered government and Party support to aid in distribution and revenue earning. As a result, over 600 newspapers and magazines folded, with some 400 more still facing challenges.

Here is more on opening up the Chinese publishing market. Milton Friedman, of course, was right to point out the strong connection between economic and political freedom. Here is a previous installment of “China Fact of the Day.”

Markets in everything, yet again

The new cinema in the Norwegian town of Kautokeino is somewhat out of the ordinary. Not only is it entirely made out of snow – it is a drive-in. For snowmobiles.

“We always wanted to create a different film experience,” explains Anne Lajla Utsi, the leader of the Kautokeino Sami film festival.

“As far as we know, this is a world first.”

Here is the full story.

And that’s not all. You sit on reindeer skins, you can buy reindeer meat and hot drinks at the snack stand (no ice cream!), and yes the screen is made of snow also.

Short art

The higher the wage rate, the more valuable is time. Some people will use their greater wealth to consume more leisure, others will run around and look harried.

Surely the arts should adapt to serve this second category of customer. We are all familiar with channel-surfing, or the two-minute pop song, but how about “high culture” in bite-sized portions?

“There’s no hard and fast reason why an opera has to be colossal or epic in scale,” says director David Pountney. “An opera is simply a narrative idea expressed through music. Length is immaterial – I have seen several successful operas that are barely 10 minutes long.”

In fact, 10 minutes sounds Wagnerian in comparison with Peter Reynolds’s Sands of Time. At three minutes and 34 seconds, it is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s shortest opera. “The librettist, Simon Rees, came up with the idea of an opera whose duration should match the boiling of an egg,” says Reynolds. “So we created a domestic scenario of a couple having an argument over breakfast. It starts with the sand-timer being turned, and ends with the egg coming out of the saucepan.” [I’ve added the link to this quotation]

Then there is always Samuel Beckett:

…the shortest of all Beckett works, the notoriously ephemeral Breath, consists of a set of printed instructions that take longer to read than to perform. Richard Gregory, of the company Quarantine, recently produced the work at Newcastle Playhouse, and came up with an ingenious solution for extending its 30-second duration. They did it twice. “I think we spent about a fortnight, all told, preparing a piece that was over in under a minute,” says Gregory.

And here is a nice short (truly short) story:

Augusto Monterroso’s El Dinosaurio reads in its entirety: “Upon waking the dinosaur was still there.”

Addendum: If your tastes run in the other direction, here is a version of Beethoven’s 9th symphony, slowed to down to last twenty-four hours. And go to the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, where you can see Douglas Gordon’s “24 Hour Psycho”, the classic Hitchcock movie but at much slower speed.

Get paid to car-pool

Nuride is Friendster for slugs, i.e. an internet based system for arranging car pools. Drivers input their travel plans online making it much easier to find someone who is going where you want to go at a time that is convenient for you. Why should drivers do this? They and their passengers are paid for their troubles. How does Nuride make a profit? Nuride is selling the reduction in congestion and pollution to local governments. Economists have long pointed out that drivers impose a cost on other travellers – the flip side is that car poolers create a benefit for other travellers. Thus, Nuride is providing a way for governments to implement the optimal Pigouvian subsidy/Coasian transfer.

So far, only a small-scale test of Nuride has been made with employees of AOL but they recently came to GMU to promote the idea and hope to have a fairly extensive Northern Virginia system operating soon. The plan sounds a bit BC (before crash) to me but I’m always happy to see more examples of entrepreneurial economics.

Thanks to Diego Aycinena for the pointer.

An impossibly crude theory of museums

The ever-insightful David Nishimura asks why museums are so strongly discouraged from selling works in their inventories. I have seen (informal) estimates that U.S. museums display no more than five percent of their collections over a few years. Nishimura asks:

In fact, museums often end up with stuff that they cannot exhibit or that is of little or no relevance to what they are all about (it’s not only relatives who end up receiving gifts that are better intentioned than chosen!). Storage space is another issue, as is the cost of insurance.

Museums also evolve over time. Nearly all older American museums, for example, started out with collections of European paintings of decidedly mediocre quality. Skip forward a few generations, and those museums’ galleries are at an entirely different level — the legacy of wealthy patrons, vastly improved connoisseurship, and the dispersal of so many old European collections. And so what was once exemplary is now the stuff sold in bulk by third-rank auction houses. Is it so bad that such works be sold off, especially if the proceeds can be used to acquire better items not well represented in the collection?

In practice, museum directors who “deaccession” artworks come under heavy criticism. Why? Here is where a very crude theory, too crude to possibly be true, comes in.

Stop thinking of visitors as the museum’s customers. Instead the customers are the donors. Donating a picture is like spending money. The donor gives a Picasso to MOMA, in return purchasing the feeling of “having given a Picasso to MOMA.” This yields tax, networking, and other privileges in this life, as well as a long-term legacy. Museums, in turn, take some care to attract viewers, so that their real customers — the donors — have greater feelings of satisfaction about the whole enterprise.

In this “model,” selling off artworks makes customers (donors) nervous. “How do I know they won’t sell off my [sic] Picasso once I’ve died?” It is only a slight reassurance to respond: “We only sell off the second-rate pictures in our inventory.” So museums sit on their huge and growing stashes of art. In this manner they signal their trustworthiness to future donors.

Under some assumptions this outcome is roughly efficient. Donating a picture to a vault is how that donor wishes to “spend” her resources. The donor may self-deceive into thinking that the donated work is a masterpiece. By the time the truth is revealed, she has passed away. Subsequently selling the work to a museum in Topeka would damage future donors more than it would benefit Kansas viewers. The museum community, of course, does not like to admit that its donors are the primary customers (how would viewers and government funders feel?), so it must present other reasons why deaccessioning is bad. At the same time the museum faces a “time consistency” problem, and would like nothing more than to sell off its dross.

The policy bottom line: Government funding eases museum needs for funds, and makes it easier for museums to keep pictures in vaults. The funding subsidizes the legacies of dead donors, eases time consistency problems for future donors, and limits the real supply of art, to the detriment of viewers. That’s just in this fantasy model of course, not in the real world.

The world’s highest suicide rate

The highest suicide rate in the world has been reported among young women in South India by a new study. The research is of major importance, according to the World Health Organization, as it brings to light Asia’s suicide problem.

The average suicide rate for young women aged between 15 to 19 living around Vellore in Tamil Nadu was 148 per 100,000. This compares to just 2.1 suicides per 100,000 in the same group in the UK.

The global suicide rate stands at 14.5 deaths per 100,000, with suicide the fourth leading cause of death in the 15 to 19 age group. However, in the Tamil Nadu study, suicide was the number one cause of death among these adolescents.

Notably, young women were much more likely to kill themselves than young men – the reverse of the rest of the world. In Western countries, men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women.

Here is the full story. Here is an NBER paper on the determinants of teenage suicide in the United States. Earlier Alex wrote about suicide as a social phenomena involving tipping and multiple equilibria.

A note on the econoblog market

Tyler and Alex want to “dominate the market in econ blogs.”

When an industrial organization economist reads such a statement–O.K., maybe not all industrial organization economists, but at least this one–he asks: “How do you define the market?” I first thought, “Economists who blog regularly about a wide range of topics from an economic perspective.” On second thought, that definition has problems. (Market definitions usually do.) Should econoblogs be restricted to just “economists”? What’s a “blog,” anyway? How often is “regularly”? Should the definition include blogs that specialize in just one area of economics, such as taxes, international economics, neuroeconomics, oligopolies? What about some of the fine public policy blogs?

On third thought, since the antitrust authorities aren’t suing Alex and Tyler yet–but Institutional Economics cracks, “It is just as well Marginal Revolution are only intellectual entrepreneurs. Commercial entrepreneurs would be setting themselves up for anti-trust action were they to put in writing their intention to dominate a market”–there’s no need to overthink this. At least not unless readers express interest, and offer to help, and someone provides major, major financial support. I’ll just note 20 other blogs–one is actually a list of links to blog posts, a list that changes weekly– that I think would probably belong in the market and that I think are worth a look.

The first four are already listed in Tyler and Alex’s links and are probably the dominant oligopolists in the market. I especially recommend EconLog, by Arnold Kling. It is consistently interesting, thoughtful, and free of cant.

The Knowledge Problem
Dynamist Blog
Brad DeLong

Sixteen more:

A Random Walk
Asymmetrical Information
Atlantic Blog
Ben Muse
Carnival of the Capitalists
Cold Spring Shops
Deinonychus antirrhopus
Jacqueline Mackie Paisley Passey
Law and Economics Blog
The Angry Economist
The Idea Shop
The Proximal Tubule
The Sports Economist
Truck and Barter

Future Imperfect

Economist David D. Friedman has posted a draft of his manuscript, Future Imperfect, and he welcomes your comments.

This book is about technological change, its consequences and how to deal with them.

. . .

Much of the book grew out of a seminar I teach at the law school of Santa Clara University. Each Thursday we discuss a technology that I am willing to argue, at least for a week, will revolutionize the world. On Sunday students email me legal issues that revolution will raise, to be put on the class web page for other students to read. Tuesday we discuss the issues and how to deal with them. Next Thursday a new technology and a new revolution. Nanotech has just turned the world into gray goo; it must be March.

Since the book was conceived in a law school, many of my examples deal with the problem of adapting legal institutions to new technology. But that is accident, not essence. The technologies that require changes in our legal rules will affect not only law but marriage, parenting, political institutions, businesses, life, death and much else.

ReHomesteading the Great Plains

Frederick Jackson Turner defined the frontier as a density of less than 6 people per square mile and declared that in 1893 the frontier was closed. But in the past fifty years, farming has become more efficient and millions of people have moved from the Great Plains to the coastal cities. As a result, the frontier has been reborn. Kansas is more of a frontier state today than it was in 1890!

Some people see the depopulation of the Great Plains as a wonderful opportunity to create the world’s largest wildlife reserve – the Buffalo Commons. Depopulation, however, is not pleasant for the people who remain who find themselves unable to afford those public goods and amenities supportable only with a larger population. Residents are fighting back, however, with an old policy, homesteading.

It’s not Lincoln’s 160 acres but Marquette, Kansas is giving away a little less than an acre to anyone willing to homestead (literally build a home) on nearby land. Several other small towns in Kansas have competitive offers (one even offers free cable).

Thanks to Curtis Melvin for the link.

Can this be true?

Here is a surprise:

So far there appears no evidence whatsoever of the “tax cut for the rich” charge. Changing regulations have reduced the burden of each income quintile except that at the very top. From the standpoint of all federal taxes, 2001 represents increased income progressivity as compared with the previous decades.

That’s Econopundit and here is the full post and data, thanks also to Bruce Bartlett for publicizing these results. The original source, I might add, is the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Note that the figures include the effects of excise, payroll, and corporate taxation, not just income taxes.

My take: We have to be careful how we interpret the figures. If “the rich are getting richer,” the top quintile can be paying more, in relative terms, even if the top marginal rates are falling. That being said, the top quintiles still appear to be carrying their share of the burden. Thanks to Brock Sides for a useful email.

Addendum: Here is some critical analysis, I am heading to my conference and don’t currently have time to evaluate it.