Bob Luddy and the Thales Academy

Scott Alexander reports:

Bloom’s Two Sigma Problem: children given private tutoring will do two sigmas better than average (ie the average tutored student will be in the 98th percentile of nontutored students). But see here for some argument that the real value is lower, maybe more like 0.4 sigma. Some further discussion on the subreddit asks the right question – can we simulate this with some kind of clever computer-guided learning? – and gives the right answer – apparently no. TracingWoodgrains has a great comment. Especially interested in their discussion of Direct Instruction: “One of the few schools to use it as the basis of their program for math and English, a libertarian private school in North Carolina called Thales Academy, is reporting results exactly in line with the two-sigma bar: 98-99th percentile average accomplishment on the IOWA test. Their admissions process requires an interview at the elementary level, but no sorting other than that, so it’s not a case of only selecting the highest-level students.” (though note that IOWA is nationally normed, and Thales is in the well-off Research Triangle area). On the other hand, it costs half of what public schools do, so file this under “cost disease” too.

By the way, I have been enjoying my read of Robert L. Luddy’s Entrepreneurial Life: The Path from Startup to Market Leader.  Luddy is founder of Thales Academy, and the final chapter of his memoir covers his thoughts and praxis on education.

Arguments against tipping

A right-wing argument:

“If you want more money get a better job,” reads one comment on a thread asking the bad tippers of the internet to explain themselves.

A left-wing argument:

James, 22, who lives in midwestern Canada, where it’s customary to tip between 15 and 20 percent, is against tipping on principle. “I feel no pressure to give a tip because I think customers supporting the ridiculous low wages are preposterous,” he says. “The establishment should be paying a living wage for a professional server, and I am of the opinion that when this happens service will go up rather than down.”

A rebel argument:

“I don’t tip because society says I have to,” says Mr. Pink, the crook played by Steve Buscemi in the 1992 Quentin Tarantino film Reservoir Dogs.

A preference-based argument:

“I just don’t feel the need to tip that much,” explains Sam, a 29-year-old woman living in New York City. “I spend a lot on food and alcohol and travel because I enjoy those things. I’ll tip a little bit but I don’t feel like I need to tip a lot.”

…Sam says her friends all tell her that she should tip at least 18 percent, but she just doesn’t care that much. “I’m not going to be rude and say I don’t care, but I actually really don’t care,” she says. “That’s not my concern. I don’t know you. You chose that profession.”

Here is the full Monica Burton article at Eater.com

Is Ben Carson underrated?

For his part, Mr. Carson publicly acknowledges the [housing affordability] crisis in most of his speeches. “Alarmingly high numbers of Americans continue to pay more than half of their incomes toward rent,” he told a House panel in October. “Many millions remain mired in poverty, rather than being guided on a path out of it.”

But he is focused less on federal solutions than on prodding local governments to ease barriers to construction. He has ordered his policy staff to come up with proposals to push local governments to reduce zoning restrictions on new projects, especially low-cost manufactured housing. HUD will also begin working with landlords around the country to come up with ways to make housing vouchers more attractive and more inclusive, aides said.

“Subsidies are a piece of the puzzle,” said Raffi Williams, a spokesman for Mr. Carson, “but we must also address the regulatory barriers relative to zoning and land use in higher-cost markets that are preventing the construction of new affordable housing. This is not just a federal problem — it’s everybody’s problem.”

Here is the full NYT story by Glenn Thrush.

Sunday assorted links

1. New interview with Peter Thiel.  Interesting throughout.

2. “Roundworms Just Came Back to Life After 40,000 Years Frozen in Siberian Permafrost.

3. Do you have a “right to repair”?

4. “The Four Thieves Vinegar Collective is a network of tech-fueled anarchists taking on Big Pharma with DIY medicines.

5. The culture that is Florida: “A man in Jacksonville, Fla., brandishing a live gator chased people in a convenience store where he was purchasing beer, video of the strange episode shows.”

Envy and status in politics

2. People will oppose policies that benefit themselves and their community if they think it will lower their within-group status. 

McClendon uses survey data from South Africa and the United States to show that status motivations change the way that people think about redistributive economic policies. This is even true within ethnic groups, including marginalized ethnic groups like African Americans. As McClendon notes:

“The worse off people are than their coethnic neighbors, the more supportive they are of greater redistribution (regardless of how personally costly this support is); the better off people are than their coethnic neighbors, the less supportive they are of redistribution.”

In other words, even when a policy might make someone materially better off (by, say, improving their housing conditions), they are likely to oppose it if the government doing so for everyone in their community would harm their relative status position.

That is from Laura Seay at The Washington Post, drawing on work from the new Envy in Politics, by Gwyneth H. McClendon.  I have just ordered that book.

Do you have reciprocity anxiety?

Namely the fear of owing other people, or institutions, a favor, or maybe just the possible perception of such?:

The researchers believe reciprocity anxiety is likely to be greater the bigger a favour and the more public its receipt. They think it’s a trait that companies should take an interest in – while loyalty schemes, vouchers and other freebies have obvious appeal to many customers, results from two initial studies suggested that these marketing strategies are actually likely to deter others…

In a follow-up study, volunteers imagined a shop attendant offering them a free drink and plate full of snacks. Afterwards, high scorers in reciprocity anxiety scored lower for customer satisfaction and they said they would be less willing to visit the store again and less willing to spread a good word about the shop.

“Reciprocity works to establish a psychological bond” between customer and firm, the researchers said, but the discomfort it causes can backfire among those high in reciprocity anxiety, especially if they feel the benefits reflect badly on them or that they will struggle to reciprocate (around 18 per cent of people tested in these new studies scored highly in the trait; age and gender were unrelated).

Here is the full article, and the pointer is from Michelle Dawson.  Finally:

…I wonder how it might impact the ways that people manage their friendships and other relationships – perhaps high scorers in reciprocity anxiety are inclined to turn down invitations, seek help or receive other friendly favours, putting them at risk of loneliness and isolation.

Saturday assorted links

1. The world we have lost: 1960s space motels.  Recommended.

2. The origins of liberal institutions in the North American colonies.

3. Behavioral economics isn’t just about biases.

4. Albertan gender arbitrage.

5. Do presidents simply have bad taste in ice cream?

6. “Lonely deaths account for around 30 percent of the total clean-out market, according to Hideto Kone, vice president of the Association of Cleanout Professionals.”  Link here.

Robert Wiblin interviews Yew-Kwang Ng

The podcast is here.  And from Wiblin’s email:

“Hi Tyler,

…I spoke with Professor Yew-Kwang Ng, a 75 year old Chinese-Australian economist in Singapore who was impressively ahead of his time and I would never have expected to exist. He:

  • Was an active columnist in Chinese newspapers in favour of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms in the 80s.
  • Was perhaps the first to write an analytical paper on wild animal welfare/suffering, in 1995!
  • Wrote about the great importance of investing to prevent human extinction in 1991, well before this became a mainstream view. He also tried to tackle resulting infinitarian paralysis before this issue was widely appreciated.
  • Is an advocate of direct brain stimulation, as a drug-alternative which humans don’t abuse or develop tolerance to.
  • Advocated over 50 years for utilitarianism, philosophical hedonism and cardinality in welfare economics and made major theoretical contributions to welfare economics.
  • Developed a theoretical basis for interpersonal utility comparisons.
  • Since forever has been promoting the correct reading of Harsanyi’s Social Aggregation Theorem rather than Rawls’ bastardisation of it.
  • Was a communist revolutionary in colonial Malaysia, but then studied economics and deconverted.
  • Figured out about half of what’s distinctive about ‘effective altruist’ thinking, totally independently and on his own well before most people got to the questions.
  • Was the first to introduce non-perfect competition in macroeconomics by combining microeconomics, macroeconomics, and general equilibrium analysis into ‘mesoeconomics’, showing that Keynesianism and Monetarism are special cases.”

It made me sad that he isn’t more widely appreciated already, even by people building on his work today, so I made a guide to his most pioneering or influential publications to go along with the episode.

It would be great if you could post on MR and Twitter! :)”

Solve for the Hilfiger hoodies equilibrium

This week, Tommy Hilfiger introduced Tommy Jeans XPLORE , a new line of clothes and accessories that all come bugged with “smart chip technology,” which tracks how often you wear them and where you go with them on.

There’s even an exclusive game, sort of like Pokémon Go, that you can use to earn rewards like gift cards and concert tickets.

“It’s all of your must-have Tommy Jeans favorites with smart chip technology,” the brand’s website reads…

The company said in its announcement for the line that it hopes the chipped clothes and game will help create a “micro-community of brand ambassadors.” In essence, they’re rewarding you for wearing the products more often.

Here is the story, and for the pointer I thank the excellent Samir Varma.

Falling corporate tax rates appear to be the equilibrium

The average corporate tax rate globally has fallen by more than half over the past three decades, from 49 percent in 1985 to 24 percent in 2018, the study found.

“Corporate taxes are going to die in 10 to 20 years at this rate,” Ludvig Wier, an economist at the University of Copenhagen and a co-author of the study, said in an interview. “Without drastic collective action, you can see we’re nearing the end of it.”

Here is the full WaPo story by Jeff Stein.

Will the AIDS pandemic worsen again?

A 63-nation survey funded by WHO and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found anywhere from 6 to 11 percent of new infections involved drug-resistant forms of HIV, and the trend was dire, with resistance increasing as high as 23 percent annually. Once individuals were put on their daily treatments, in 2017 failure rates due to drug resistance were as high as 90 percent in some countries, meaning new infections in those regions could no longer be controlled with the $75-a-year first-line therapies. The first such survey conducted in Cameroon, recently published, found that the majority of patients failing their primary treatments—up to 88 percent of them—were infected with resistant strains of HIV, and overall drug resistance rates in the West African nation in 2018 approach 18 percent.

Meanwhile, preventing HIV infection has fallen off the priority list, both in funding and individual action.

There is more of interest at the link, that is from Laurie Garrett, writing at Foreign Policy.

Cross-Mediterranean migration to Europe is falling

Fewer successes, more deaths:

Between 2015 and 2017, according to United Nations data analyzed by The Washington Post, about 95 percent of migrants taking the so-called central Mediterranean route ended up on this continent’s shores.

Last month, however, the success rate was 45 percent — the lowest of any month in at least four years. A large proportion of migrants were intercepted and returned to North Africa. But deaths have spiked. According to the International Organization for Migration, 564 people died in June — or more than 7 percent of those who attempted the crossing. That is the highest percentage in any month since at least 2015. For the year, 3.4 percent have died attempting the journey, compared with 2.1 percent last year.

“Outsourcing” seems to be a major reason for this change:

Many migrants don’t make it to Europe because they don’t make it past the fleet of Libyan patrol vessels. The coast guard, rebuilt with E.U. and Italian funding, has become the most important player in the Mediterranean. Though the unit has been patrolling its coastal waters for more than a year and a half, data suggests it is becoming far more proficient at its job: intercepting migrants, placing them in detention on Libyan shores and keeping them from Europe.

In 2017, the Libyan coast guard managed to catch about 1 in 9 migrants attempting the journey. This year, it is intercepting almost 2 in 5. In June, it intercepted 47 percent.

Here is the full WaPo story by Chico Harlan.

How partisan is local law enforcement for immigration?

That is the topic of a new paper from Daniel M. Thompson, political science at Stanford.  The answer is “not very”:

Is local law enforcement conducted differently based on the party in power? I offer an answer to this question by focusing on a case in which law enforcement is elected and has meaningful independent discretion: sheriff compliance with federal requests to detain unauthorized immigrants. Using a regression discontinuity design in a new dataset of over 3,200 partisan sheriff elections and administrative data on sheriff behavior, I find that Democrats and Republicans comply at nearly the same rate. These results contribute to ongoing research into the role that partisanship plays in local policymaking, indicating that law enforcement officers make similar choices across party lines even when they have broad authority. I also present evidence that sheriffs hold more similar immigration enforcement views across party than the general public, highlighting the role of candidate entry in determining the level of partisan polarization.

For the pointer I thank Andrew Hall.  And here is Daniel Thompson on Twitter.

The longest history lesson ever is about Texas

n August 24 at 9 a.m., Andrew Torget will take the podium in a University of North Texas auditorium, clad in a suit and armed with 500 pages of notes. Forty-five students will be seated in front of him, notebooks — no laptops! — at the ready.

He’ll open his notes, clear his throat, and begin his lecture. If he’s going to successfully teach the longest recorded history class ever, he won’t be able to stop, aside from occasional brief breaks, for the next 30 hours. At least 10 of his students will have to stick it out, too.

Torget, an associate professor of history at North Texas, is gunning for an official Guinness World Record — for longest history lesson. What will the class cover? Texas history. All of it, he says, “from cave people up until last week.”

Here is the story by Sarah Brown, via Anecdotal.