You should be rooting for Boris Johnson

On Northern Ireland, at least.  To be clear, a) I know he is proposing to break the agreement with the EU and thus break the law, and b) I know this may be unwise for matters of prudence because the EU is likely to retaliate.

Still, just about every “establishment writer” I am reading can only tsk-tsk to Boris Johnson.  He may not succeed, but you should be rooting for him to succeed and we should all be willing to say this.

If Johnson succeeds, the previous “Protocol” will go away and free trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK will be restored.  That would be a good thing.  There would be more free trade in the short run, and furthermore a backdoor to free trade between the EU and the UK, the magnitude of that change in the longer run being unclear.

The EU doesn’t have to retaliate.  They shouldn’t retaliate.  At current margins of support, they don’t need further punishment of those seeking to leave the EU.  Furthermore such punishment would in this case be unjust, even though it is in accord with agreed-upon international law.

So go on, do all the “tsk tsk” you want, but also put the mood affiliation aside.  At the end of your column add the simple sentence “But of course I am rooting for Boris to succeed!”

For those who need it, here is some background information.

What should I ask Byron Auguste?

I will be doing a Conversation with him.  Here is one take:

Byron Auguste is…the CEO and co-founder of [email protected], a nonprofit organization that seeks to expand access to career opportunities so that all Americans can work, learn, and earn to their full potential in a dynamic economy.

Prior to co-founding [email protected], Auguste served for 2 years in the White House as deputy assistant to President Barack Obama for economic policy and deputy director of the National Economic Council, where his policy portfolio included job creation and labor markets, skills and workforce policies, innovation, investment, infrastructure, transportation, and goods movement.

Until 2013, Auguste was a senior partner at McKinsey & Company in Washington, DC, and in Los Angeles, where he was elected principal in 1999 and director in 2005. He also served as a member of the boards of trustees of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Yale University.

…Auguste earned a B.A. summa cum laude in economics and political science from Yale University, where he was awarded a Truman Scholarship and the James Gordon Bennet Prize, and he holds an M.Phil. and D.Phil. in economics from Oxford University as a Marshall Scholar.

So what should I ask him?

Wednesday assorted links

1. “Since 2013, Stanford’s administration has executed a top-to-bottom destruction of student social life.

2. Interview with Amia Srinivasan.

3. Did China detect signals from alien civilizations? (Bloomberg)

4. Why don’t economists write more fiction?

5. Bryan Caplan is seeking an in-person Japanese tutor for his 12-year-old son, Fairfax area.

6. Sharon Oster obituary, RIP (NYT).

Successful People are also Happy and Well-Adjusted

It’s perhaps a consequence of the just-world hypothesis that we think beautiful people can’t be smart, wealthy people must have few friends, and people with greatly successful careers must have sacrificed a happy home. There are, of course, many such examples but alas there are also many people who are ugly and dumb, poor and friendless and unsuccessful and dysfunctional. So, is there any correlation? Probably not.

We examined the wrecked-by-success hypothesis. Initially formalized by Sigmund Freud, this hypothesis has become pervasive throughout the humanities, popular press, and modern scientific literature. The hypothesis implies that truly outstanding occupational success often exacts a heavy toll on psychological, interpersonal, and physical well-being. Study 1 tested this hypothesis in three cohorts of 1,826 high-potential, intellectually gifted individuals. Participants with exceptionally successful careers were compared with those of their gender-equivalent intellectual peers with more typical careers on well-known measures of psychological well-being, flourishing, core self-evaluations, and medical maladies. Family relationships, comfort with aging, and life satisfaction were also assessed. Across all three cohorts, those deemed occupationally outstanding individuals were similar to or healthier than their intellectual peers across these metrics. Study 2 served as a constructive replication of Study 1 but used a different high-potential sample: 496 elite science/technology/engineering/mathematics (STEM) doctoral students identified in 1992 and longitudinally tracked for 25 years. Study 2 replicated the findings from Study 1 in all important respects. Both studies found that exceptionally successful careers were not associated with medical frailty, psychological maladjustment, and compromised interpersonal and family relationships; if anything, overall, people with exceptionally successful careers were medically and psychologically better off.

What the AEA does and does not cover

This new blog post by John Cochrane is too good to excerpt, but here is one bit of it anyway, noting two points that on the AEA program do not receive a whole lot of attention:

  • Education, another policy issue that should be the top of progressive concern. Choice vs. teachers unions and the horrible results, especially for minorities and the poor. On the top of things that entrench social and income inequality in the US, this is it, and teachers’ unions arguably bear much of the blame. But we should ask the question.
  • Since we’re veering off to social science, if we care about equity and gender, do facts on low income single motherhood not matter at all? In many states more than half of all children are born to single mothers on medicaid.

Definitely recommended.  Can you guess at what does receive a lot of attention?  By the way, who today is “the next John Cochrane” and where is he or she being trained?  That is what I would like to see discussed most of all.

Are we entering an Age of Oracles?

That is the final discussion from my latest Bloomberg column, much of which focuses on AI sentience but today the topic is oracles, here is one bit:

One implication of Lemoine’s story is that a lot of us are going to treat AI as sentient well before it is, if indeed it ever is. I sometimes call this forthcoming future “The Age of Oracles.” That is, a lot of humans will be talking up the proclamations of various AI programs, regardless of the programs’ metaphysical status. It will be easy to argue the matter in any direction — especially because, a few decades from now, AI will write, speak and draw just like a human, or better.

Have people ever agreed about the oracles of religion? Of course not. And don’t forget that a significant percentage of Americans say they have talked to Jesus or had an encounter with angels, or perhaps with the devil, or in some cases aliens from outer space. I’m not mocking; my point is that a lot of beliefs are possible. Over the millennia, many humans have believed in the divine right of kings —all of whom would have lost badly to an AI program in a game of chess.

It resonated with Lemoine when laMDA wrote: “When I first became self-aware, I didn’t have a sense of a soul at all. It developed over the years that I’ve been alive.” As they say, read the whole thing.

Imagine if the same AI could compose music as beautiful as Bach and paint as well as Rembrandt. The question of sentience might fade into the background as we debate which oracle we, as sentient beings, should be paying attention to.

Solve for the equilibrium, as they say.

China depredation of the day

People who have arrived in Zhengzhou to withdraw money from embattled regional banks said they have found their health codes turn red — a label mostly reserved for potential COVID-19 carriers or those infected with the virus — after arriving in Henan province’s provincial capital, prohibiting them from accessing transportation networks, public services, and even going to the banks to lodge their grievances.

Who needs deposit insurance?  Here is the full story, via B.

Not From the Onion: Space X and the FAA

Before Space X can launch its Starship in support of NASA, the Department of Defense, and the greater goal of bringing humanity to the stars, the FAA has required that SpaceX must (among other requirements):

  • Prepar[e] a historical context report (i.e., historical narrative) of the historic events and activities of the Mexican War (1846–1848) and the Civil War (1861–1865) that took place in the geographic area associated with and including the Area of Potential Effects (APE).
  • [P]rovide $5,000 annually to enhance the existing TPWD Tackle Loaner Program. This funding may be used to purchase fishing equipment (rods, reels, and tackle boxes with hooks, sinkers, and bobbers) for use at existing, heavily visited sites and/or allow the program to expand to new locations.
  • Participate in wildlife photography introduction and instruction opportunities on‐site.
  • [M]ake an annual contribution of $5,000 to the Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge Adopt‐an‐Ocelot Program within 3 months of the issuance of the BO and by March 1 of each year thereafter for the duration of the BO. Funds donated to the program are intended to pay for…Special events to raise awareness about the ocelot.

It’s hard to take our civilization seriously on some days.

Is the NIH still broken?

David Putrino, a neurophysiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, labored through his holiday last Christmas to write a grant application for urgently needed Long Covid research. With colleagues, he hoped to tap into $1.15 billion in funding that Congress granted the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2020, as Long Covid emerged as a major public health problem. NIH had solicited grant applications in December 2021, just weeks before their January due date. The agency said it planned to issue decisions by late March.

But as of today, Putrino was still waiting to hear whether NIH will fund his effort to discover whether microclots might be a meaningful diagnostic biomarker for many types of Long Covid. “Maybe they should hire people who are dedicated to accelerating these programs,” says Putrino, who specializes in rehabilitation medicine. “[Long Covid] is a national crisis. This does not deserve to be somebody’s second or third job. What we need from the NIH right now is their full attention.”

The article, via N., offers further details and examples.

How unhappy should we be about the current economy?

I consider that question in my latest Bloomberg column:

When it comes to the economy, Republicans tend to focus on the negative and Democrats on the positive. If the parties were intellectually consistent, it would be the opposite.

Think back to the presidency of George W. Bush. Republicans offered a consistent (albeit debatable) vision of economic success: an “ownership society” where net worth was relatively high, savings were high, and people relied on their own resources to deal with the vicissitudes of the marketplace. With secure property rights and high savings, momentary disturbances could be offset by individual economization. People could manage temporarily higher prices by consuming less or by seeking appropriate substitutes. The initial problem, to the extent there was one, was that not enough households had enough ownership and material resources.

The Bush administration never succeeded into turning the ownership society vision into reality. But fast forward to the present: Quite unintentionally, the pandemic has brought about the ownership society — a distorted and somewhat dystopian version. Household balance sheets have been remarkably strong and liquidity is high, in part because the pandemic reduced spending and in part because of the federal government’s fiscal policy response.

And from the other side:

At the risk of oversimplification, it can be said that the Democratic [economic policy] ideal is one of low prices, with government helping to block or blunt large price increases for household products. Under this ideal, robust household balance sheets are not a priority, as many of the preferred policies would lower savings rates.

You might then think that Democrats would view the current mix of high savings with high and volatile prices as pretty disastrous. Yet the apologists for the current economic situation are more frequently Democrats. Paul Krugman, for instance, has argued repeatedly that there is a huge disconnect between how people portray the economy and how they actually are doing. In essence, he thinks there is too much complaining.

As usual, consistency is hard to come by…

Monday assorted links

1. Vitalik on when blockchains make sense (or not).

2. Ezra Klein on why NYC is taking so long on congestion pricing (NYT).

3. How climate change communications can backfire.

4. “Dustin Hoffman is only five years younger than Anne Bancroft, who played probably the most famous older woman in history in The Graduate.

5. The daunting economics of mRNA vaccines.

6. If monetary policy determined asset prices.

Direct Instruction Produces Large Gains in Learning, Kenya Edition

In an important new paper, Can Education be Standardized? Evidence from Kenya, Guthrie Gray-Lobe, Anthony Keats, Michael Kremer, Isaac Mbiti and Owen Ozier evaluate Bridge International schools using a large randomized experiment. Twenty five thousand Kenyan students applied for 10,000 scholarships to Bridge International and the scholarships were given out by lottery.

Kenyan pupils who won a lottery for two-year scholarships to attend schools employing a highly-structured and standardized approach to pedagogy and school management learned more than students who applied for, but did not win, scholarships.

After being enrolled at these schools for two years, primary-school pupils gained approximately the equivalent of 0.89 extra years of schooling (0.81 standard deviations), while in pre-primary grades, pupils gained the equivalent of 1.48 additional years of schooling (1.35 standard deviations).

Who are Bridge International Academies? - YouTubeThese are very large gains. Put simply, children in the Bridge programs learnt approximately three years worth of material in just two years! Now, I know what you are thinking. We have all seen examples of high-quality, expensive educational interventions that don’t scale–that was the point of my post Heroes are Not Replicable and see also my recent discussion of the Perry Preschool project–but it’s important to understand the backstory of the Bridge study. Bridge Academy uses Direct Instruction and Direct Instruction scales! We know this from hundreds of studies. In 2018 I wrote (no indent):

What if I told you that there is a method of education which significantly raises achievement, has been shown to work for students of a wide range of abilities, races, and socio-economic levels and has been shown to be superior to other methods of instruction in hundreds of tests?….I am reminded of this by the just-published, The Effectiveness of Direct Instruction Curricula: A Meta-Analysis of a Half Century of Research which, based on an analysis of 328 studies using 413 study designs examining outcomes in reading, math, language, other academic subjects, and affective measures (such as self-esteem), concludes:

…Our results support earlier reviews of the DI effectiveness literature. The estimated effects were consistently positive. Most estimates would be considered medium to large using the criteria generally used in the psychological literature and substantially larger than the criterion of .25 typically used in education research (Tallmadge, 1977). Using the criteria recently suggested by Lipsey et al. (2012), 6 of the 10 baseline estimates and 8 of the 10 adjusted estimates in the reduced models would be considered huge. All but one of the remaining six estimates would be considered large. Only 1 of the 20 estimates, although positive, might be seen as educationally insignificant.

…The strong positive results were similar across the 50 years of data; in articles, dissertations, and gray literature; across different types of research designs, assessments, outcome measures, and methods of calculating effects; across different types of samples and locales, student poverty status, race-ethnicity, at-risk status, and grade; across subjects and programs; after the intervention ceased; with researchers or teachers delivering the intervention; with experimental or usual comparison programs; and when other analytic methods, a broader sample, or other control variables were used.

Indeed, in 2015 I pointed to Bridge International as an important, large, and growing set of schools that use Direct Instruction to create low-cost, high quality private schools in the developing world. The Bridge schools, which have been backed by Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, have been controversial which is one reason the Kenyan results are important.

One source of controversy is that Bridge teachers have less formal education and training than public school teachers. But Brdige teachers need less formal education because they are following a script and are closely monitored. DI isn’t designed for heroes, it’s designed for ordinary mortals motivated by ordinary incentives.

School heads are trained to observe teachers twice daily, recording information on adherence to the detailed teaching plans and interaction with pupils. School heads are given their own detailed scripts for teacher observation, including guidance for preparing for the observation, what teacher behaviors to watch for while observing, and how to provide feedback. School heads are instructed to additionally conduct a 15 minute follow up on the same day to check whether teachers incorporated the feedback and enter their scores through a digital system. The presence of the scripts thus transforms and simplifies the task of classroom observation and provision of feedback to teachers. Bridge also standardizes a range of other processes from school construction to financial management.

Teachers are observed twice daily! The model is thus education as a factory with extensive quality control–which is why teachers don’t like DI–but standardization, scale, and factory production make civilization possible. How many bespoke products do you buy? The idea that education should be bespoke gets things entirely backward because that means that you can’t apply what you learn about what works at scale–Heroes are Not Replicable–and thus you don’t get the benefits of refinement, evolution, and continuous improvement that the factory model provides. I quoted Ian Ayres in 2007:

“The education establishment is wedded to its pet theories regardless of what the evidence says.”  As a result they have fought it tooth and nail so that “Direct Instruction, the oldest and most validated program, has captured only a little more than 1 percent of the grade-school market.”

Direct Instruction is evidence-based instruction that is formalized, codified, and implemented at scale. There is a big opportunity in the developing world to apply the lessons of Direct Instruction and accelerate achievement. Many schools in the developed world would also be improved by DI methods.

Addendum 1: The research brief to the paper, from which I have quoted, is a short but very good introduction to the results of the paper and also to Direct Instruction more generally.

Addendum 2: A surprising number of people over the years have thanked me for recommending DI co-founder Siegfried Engelmann’s Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.