Sunday, January 25, 2015

Article Cites Paper Refuting Article

Good job world:…/how-big-is-economics-sexism-problem-this-a…/

"Why are top-notch female economists not being taken seriously? Why are they having trouble being recognized for their contributions to the profession? Why do women still have a hard time in the economics profession in general?...

In their recent academic paper “Women in Academic Science: A Changing Landscape,” Stephen J. Ceci, Donna K. Ginther, Shulamit Kahn, and Wendy M. Williams document the gender gap in economics and discuss many possible hurdles at each stage of a female economist’s career."

Eli finds and reads paper…/Women-Academic-Scienc…

"We conclude by suggesting that although in the past, gender discrimination was an important cause of women’s underrepresentation in scientific academic careers, this claim has continued to be invoked after it has ceased being a valid cause of women’s underrepresentation in math-intensive fields"

So the journalist article cites an academic paper for support, when the academic paper says exactly the opposite of what the journalist article is saying. Can you say fail?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Living on a Dollar Movie: Caring vs. Effectiveness

I watched Living on One Dollar on the Canadian Netflix tonight. It had the impact one would expect. Some (a lot!) people are very poor in this world, and it’s sad to think about. I felt sad watching it. But here in the first world, you don’t have to look far to find heart wrenching stories of third-world poverty. It’s everywhere, everybody knows about it, and everybody has felt sad about it. Despite massive awareness of the problem, few are willing to reach into their pocketbooks to fix it. A more controversial truth is that when they do it doesn’t seem to help very much. The idea that if only people cared more the problem would be fixed has been the a huge distraction. Effective altruist groups are necessary because so much altruism is ineffective. And they’re ineffective because they’re cognitively lazy.

It’s always more about the care than the effectiveness. There’s a reason why people focus in on America’s low % of GDP charity donation rate, rather than their very high absolute donation rate. Which one helps the poorest of the poor more? Of course it’s the number of actual dollars spent. The poor aren’t helped more because you donated 10% of your income instead of 2%. They’re helped more if you donated $100 rather than $20. One shows that you care more, and one helps more. And everyone I’ve ever met wants to hone in on the one that shows that you care more.

Look at it this way. People care. People care a lot. They care so much that it hurts. Rational hurting people use the least cost method of relieving themselves of the hurt. The first best solution is to ignore it, and they do. But what if they can’t bare to ignore it? They donate. Now they can feel good about themselves. They can tell themselves that they donated and they feel better. Problem solved. But it isn’t the problem of poverty.

What I liked about the movie is that wasn’t all about caring. It was about understanding. It was explicit in communicating how complicated poverty is in the real world. I was glad to see them help popularize microfinance, which I’ve heard so many good things about from development economists.

Something I was surprised by in the movie was how much of their income taken up by purchasing firewood. That’s not what I would expect.

The movie also pointed attention to the importance of child labor. Of course child labor isn’t ideal (those kids should be in school!), but when you take it away families often starve. I hope it will incite serious consideration from people who want to just take away child labor as if it were the problem rather than an unfortunate solution. This point has been made by economists across the political divide, see Paul Krugman or Benjamin Powell.

The movie also pointed attention toward how important the variance between very low incomes can be. It’s very easy for us in the rich world to conflate $.50 a day, $1 a day, and $2 a day like they’re the same. In reality they’re very different. In the movie the group had a four day streak of only receiving $2 total and it was much worse.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Best Econtalk Episodes 2014

As with previous years, Russ Roberts of Econtalk is asking listeners for their favorites episodes of the year. Here are mine:

Bryan Caplan on college, signaling and human capital

Jonathan Haidt on the righteous mind

Emily Oster on Infant Mortality

Velasquez-Manoff on autoimmune disease, parasites, and complexity

One notable episode that was not one of my favorites is D.G. Myers on cancer dying and living.

One important episode that was not one of my favorites is Thomas Piketty on inequality and capital in the 21st century

Econtalk is a wondrous podcast. I’m much smarter because of it.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Election or Lunch?

Suppose that I find someone on the “other side” who I can trust -- a friend who I’m always arguing with over political disagreements but at the end of the day we have loyalty towards each other. And in the next election, we decide that neither of us are going to vote. Since our two votes are going to cancel each other out anyway, we both go out to lunch while all those other chumps stand in line at the polling stations. Because we trust each other, we both know that the other won’t secretly vote while the other isn’t looking. What do you think?

“It’s a great idea! Good for you!”
I agree. We are both reasonable people who appreciate creative ideas.

“That’s terrible! You should vote!”
You are probably a Democratic Fundamentalist. You support the Democratic ritual beyond the point at which it is actually making a difference.

“That’s terrible! You’re giving a third party an unfair advantage!”
You are probably a Rationalizing Democratic Fundamentalist. You’re a Democratic Fundamentalist in denial. You make up reasons for why you’re actually supporting productive behavior, not democratic fundamentalism, so you latch onto something true in principle but tiny in magnitude.

So does anyone want to have coffee at Starbucks next election day?

10 Bizarre Biblical Tails

Here are 10 bizarre biblical tales. Several of them are easily captured by the modern Christian Worldview. Miracles aren’t a problem for God (talking donkeys). Many things that strike us as odd today had deep meaning to the people back then (see the story on Moses and God’s backside, or Saul and foreskins). There’s no reason to think that God approved of some of the heinous stories.

I’d like to point attention to a heinous story in which God appears supportive. Consider the story of Elijah:

One of the more inspirational passages in the Bible tells the story of Elijah, a wise man, yet one cursed with male pattern baldness. One day he was minding his own business, making the long walk to Bethel, when he is attacked by a roving band of children who tease him with names like “bald head.” But Elijah was having none of this, he turns round and curses them in the name of the Lord, and instantly two female bears emerge from a nearby wood and maul all 42 children to death.

Let the rationalizations begin!

“"The story doesn’t actually say that the mauling of children was God’s response to Elijah’s curse. It says that Elijah cursed the children, and then two bears emerged and mauled the 42 children. Two events, no causal relationship, “ I’ve heard a Christian give this interpretation. The Christian would sooner believe in this astronomical coincidence then call into question whether the story was made up, or whether God could actually do such a thing.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Conservatives worried about Divorces that aren’t happening

When I look at divorce statistics, I’m pleasantly surprised. From 1960s until about 1981 the divorce rate went up, but from 1981 to present the divorce rate has been slowly but steadily dropping.

I hear all the time that 50% of marriages will end in divorce. Maybe you have too. It’s just one of those things that people heard somewhere, fit in with their already established metanarrative about the social decline of American life, and henceforth believed wholeheartedly. But it’s not a fact out there in the world to be observed. It’s a projection. And projecting how many of today’s marriages will end in divorce is complicated.

A lot of what’s happening is that there are fewer marriages and therefore fewer divorces. So if the divorce rate falls, but the marriage rate falls by the same amount, the number of marriages that end in divorce should stay the same.

It seems conservative leaning folks who are the ones primarily concerned with what they think is an epidemic of divorce. That makes a lot of sense. For them at most a very small % of divorces are for good reasons – maybe for infidelity and maybe for abuse. For liberals however, a lot of the rising divorce rate could be a good thing. A lot of people who were miserable in the marriages left and found a better life for themselves. A lot of people who have changed or fallen out of love improved their lives greatly by getting a divorce.

The short conservative list of reasons for divorce are all reasons why divorce is permissible. The longer list of liberal reasons for divorce often include several reasons why divorce is the right thing to do.

Not to say that liberals consider a rising divorce rate ideal or even good in general. But there’s a lot more room from them for valid divorce in their worldview. So when I find that conservatives are the ones harping about the divorce epidemic, I’m not surprised.

But when it comes to interpreting the drop in marriages alongside the drop in divorce statistic, I think conservatives will spin it in a negative direction. “That the only (only?) reason divorce is becoming less frequent is because marriage is becoming less frequent”, but why is that a bad thing to a consistent conservative. Conservatives believe that if you get divorced, you shouldn’t have married in the first place. That’s what’s happening. “It is better to have married and divorced then to never have married at all”, is a claim very contrary to conservatism. If you can’t handle marriage, don’t get married.

There’s still plenty for the conservative to complain about. People likely aren’t getting married because moving in together before marriage is now a thing when before it wasn’t. But this is shifting to a completely different social issue in pursuit of something to complain about. If divorce is falling because marriage is falling, and marriage is falling because of rising rates of cohabitating couples, then people moving in together is a bad solution that solves a worse problem.

And that’s if cohabitating couples explains all of the fall in marriage rates. In reality, it only explains a portion, and the drop in marriage rates only explain a portion of the drop in divorce rates. When we start taking fractions of fractions things start getting very insignificant very quickly. There are lots of other reasons why both marriage and divorce rates would be going down. Of course, if you listen carefully, you can hear all the conservatives saying it’s because of liberal influence, and liberals saying it’s because of conservative influence. What is striking is how infrequently what each of these groups interpret as a “good influence” ever has a single negative consequence. Good policies can never have any negative effects. Bad policies can never have any positive effects. Real life doesn’t work that way.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Motte-and-Bailey Doctrine

One of the least known but common rhetorical tactics I’ve ever heard of is the Motte-and-Bailey Doctrine. I believe Nicholas Shackel is the originator of the term, and one of my favorite bloggers Scott Alexander helped popularize it.

Scott Alexander explains it precisely,

The writers of the paper compare this to a form of medieval castle, where there would be a field of desirable and economically productive land called a bailey, and a big ugly tower in the middle called the motte. If you were a medieval lord, you would do most of your economic activity in the bailey and get rich. If an enemy approached, you would retreat to the motte and rain down arrows on the enemy until they gave up and went away. Then you would go back to the bailey, which is the place you wanted to be all along.

So the motte-and-bailey doctrine is when you make a bold, controversial statement. Then when somebody challenges you, you claim you were just making an obvious, uncontroversial statement, so you are clearly right and they are silly for challenging you. Then when the argument is over you go back to making the bold, controversial statement.

He follows it up with several examples. I’d like to throw in a few of my own.

Socialists often want to switch to a radically different economic system, one where the means of production are held by private individuals to one where they’re held by “society” which ends up being government. When it is pointed out that socialism was tried by several societies, each ending up in desperate poverty, the socialist will counter with examples from Sweden, Norway, Finland, and other Scandinavian countries. Well, that’s really nice, but they’re mixed economies like ours. If by socialism you really meant mainly private means of production mixed with heavy taxes and a large welfare state, then why are you quoting Marx again? Why are you trying to dismantle “Corporate America” again?

Biblical inspiration means a lot of things to a lot of people, but the variance is almost always among more academically minded. For most Christians it means both inerrancy in historical events and inerrancy in teaching. When this definition runs up against some really tough to swallow texts, inerrancy becomes interpreted much more loosely. With historical events all of the sudden interpretation becomes a thing. With teaching all the sudden opinions become a thing. And inerrancy doesn’t conflict with these two things. Okay, but you would malign anyone who tried to pull such a thing with passages that agree with the popular Christian worldview.