Feed on

Blast from the Past

HT to AT


Well worth your time to read.

As readers can tell, I’m basically withdrawn from my online presence, and hope to slowly extract myself entirely one day. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I want to write something about Earth Hour. Yes, as you all know I find this to be silly symbolism, and it probably directly makes the environment a tiny bit dirtier. But I don’t want those silly criticisms by me to be misconstrued as thinking the idea is bad on that there are not lots of sincere people who are just trying to do a tiny little but for the environment. I actually don’t know if in the long run these sorts of things do much good, nor do I know that they do anything bad. Maybe it’s no different than lots of people choosing to take a walk on some prearranged time. Would people be posting about that passionately, even in favor, or opposed? I think not. So that’s sort of what I am thinking about Earth Hour for now.

We all need to take a freakin’ chill pill.

THE highlight, among many:

when Bill Gates talks about taxing robots, does he mean  taxing the Microsoft software that is doing things that a lot of people used to do?

Well, I can’t talk about it. But let me suggest one or two things to keep in mind.

  1. I feel like some part of the campus conservative movement is, itself, to blame for this. I know, I sound like blaming the victim, but my sense is that they are inviting controversial speakers to campus not to learn anything, but to actually be controversial. Now, I do not happen to think Murray is a good example of this, but the thingy at Cal a few weeks ago seems to be what I have in mind. But if the “right” were seeking my advice – it would be to engage ideas directly and begin a conversation with a series of questions about why people hold various ideas, and to understand why there are people who disagree and what fears and hopes people have. I am not sure that a good way to start the conversations is to put an “in your face” event on the table …
  2. As for the intellectual climate on campus – without going detail by detail, there is no doubt something going on. Just examine the reaction of the students, protesters and the campuses themselves. There is, as far as I can tell, embarrassment (perhaps) that media attention to the disruptions makes them look bad and less open to free speech. But think a little bit about this – there seems to be utterly no engagement with the ideas in any way, shape or form. I think the protesters see opportunities like Murray coming to campus to “expose” how horrible he and his ideas are – and the fact that things got out of hand never really gave them a chance to do that. But is that now what we call intellectual freedom, diversity and liberal arts learning? So, people with different “opinions” are welcome, just as a sort of token nod to diversity, and are welcomed because it makes for an easy target to demonstrate how right and morally superior the rest of the university is? Seriously, read the articles about these incidents – I am not sure I have ever seen a single person reflect for a moment on why people hold particular ideas, in what circumstances they may be right, and what the implications would be. For example, I myself am very much in favor of opening our borders completely. Suppose my school brought a person here to talk about restricting immigration and labor market mobility. I would not want to have them here just show to everyone how ignorant they are, and how erudite and moral my open borders view are (they are!), but rather maybe I can learn more both about my own position and the complexities of the policy areas here by listening carefully to the other person’s arguments and understanding WHY they hold them. I find it just intellectually lazy, dangerous, and in fact, awful, if the default position of people would be, “well, the only possible reason someone can be opposed to open borders is because they hate human beings.” But, that’s what the intellectual climate has become.

There’s so much more to say, but I’m going to retreat back to writing my micro exam.

Well, is that fair?

In our measures of welfare in economics, we pay careful attention to the impacts an exchange has not just on those parties who are involved in the exchange, but also to third parties who may be receiving benefits or incurring costs as a result of Person A exchanging with Person B.

What economics tends to not do is to consider the preferences of Person C, who is not impacted by the transaction, in our measures of welfare. This is not to say that most of policy ignores Person C, in fact it is my belief that a good chunk of policy considers the feelings of Person C almost to the exclusion of A and B. Consider kidney markets. Again, I do not wish to get into the details here, just an illustration. By allowing the sale of kidneys, we will impact the well-being of potential donors of kidneys and potential recipients of kidneys. But there are tens of millions of people whose lives will not in any material way be impacted by the sale of kidneys outside of their objecting to living in a world where kidneys are handled in any way other than making people wait in line for them. Whatever their arguments are, good or bad, I do not care. What I care about is the obvious fact that those arguments receive weighting in our “society’s” welfare functional and in fact kidney law is predicated on satisfying those preferences.

And when you see some criticisms of market transactions or efficiency measures of economists, we inevitably come across an appeal to, or an appeal from, third parties who do not have standing in the transaction (remember, we already model out externalities, so my focus here is on people beyond that scope). Perhaps a way to incorporate these preferences legitimately into welfare analysis is to argue that the policies we enact today may impact the values and costs that non-participants may receive in the future – but then this can be very generalized to any situation.

What I find interesting is that the voices and opinions and preferences of only SOME portion of Persons C tend to be included when we are deciding thinks like legalizing drugs, or relaxing zoning restrictions, or expanding school choice and such. While it seems like the argument, “I just can’t imagine living in a world where the government does not provide “free” quality schooling to every boy and girl” actually gets considered, how often does the opposite sentiment get considered and used to enact policy? For example, some non-affected third parties may absolutely delight to be alive in a world where zoning restrictions were relaxed, they may have extremely strong moral feelings in favor of legalizing kidney compensation, and  so on. Not only is it socially uncouth to express positive preferences for these sorts of things, serious discussions of these and other policies rarely, if ever, openly consider that there are millions of people who share those preferences. It’s the morally opposed that are more “vocal” than the “morally supportive” … I wonder why. Perhaps it’s a case of the status quo bias, but I suspect something else is going on.

When I Was 30

When my dad was 30, it was the year I was born, he was having the 5th of his 6th kids, and he was completing his 10th year of full-time work (he put himself through college while working).  He had been married for 9 years.

When I was 30, I was just finishing my PhD in Economics, and had only recently been married, no kids, but a bunch of pets.

Chetty is comparing income at age 30 for a cohort born after WW2, and a cohort born just after me, so not unlike my dad and me. And maybe this is part of Cowen’s complacency story, but my dad had no choice but to earn as much as possible. I’ve clearly chosen not to.


I encourage you all to go to this (I’ll sadly be tied up, but this is a super program):


Pardon my weekend thought. The post title tends to come off as more curmudgeony than I want it to, but my thinking is this. Suppose we move heaven and earth for the next several decades to make sure that every single person in the United States gets the very best and most equal education. In fact, suppose the science and delivery of education improves so much that every child who gets schooling reaches her maximum possible potential.

There are, nonetheless, already differences in IQ, or “g” or “intelligence” or “cognitive aptitude” or whatever you want to call it. Once we recognize this, ask the question about from where the high performing students will come in this world? In today’s world. there is a serious likelihood that high achievers are high achievers because they have more resources, sort into better peer groups, and so on. But if we end up equalizing “resources” and we also recognize that there will nonetheless some students who do better than others, from which group would future high achievers be coming? The answer would seem to be that in our future the “best and the brightest” would be coming from the actual “best and the brightest” and not just the prettiest and the richest. The implication here is rather startling – if we are finding outcomes to be highly heritable, that is most likely evidence that kids are not getting advantages from their parents.

Go figure.

The tough part of this idea is that it leaves us in a world where ANY possible outcome is subject to straw-man demagoguery.

From Coyote:

Several years ago I was uninvited from co-chairing an effort on gay marriage because others in the group did not like my stances on unrelated issues like education choice.

Older Posts »