These smug pilots have lost touch with regular passengers like us

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

What’s the best thing to do on an airplane? Twitter fight, Nassim Nicholas Taleb says:

I tried to get in a fight with an Indian fellow who’s repeating that story that we’re refusing expertise at all. Remember that cartoon? They’re imitating that cartoon in The New Yorker that shows people with the sign that they don’t need the expertise of the pilot.

“These smug pilots have lost touch with regular passengers like us. Who thinks I should fly the plane?”

“These smug pilots have lost touch with regular passengers like us. Who thinks I should fly the plane?”

You cannot compare a macroeconomist to a pilot. There are two classes of experts. Belly dancers are experts at belly dancing. The people who steal radios from cars are experts at stealing radios from cars. Dentists are experts at dentistry. I’m not sure macroeconomists know anything about anything.

Because there’s no feedback, so we don’t know. Maybe they know. Policymakers or people in the State Department, I’m not sure they know anything because there’s no feedback. We definitely know that a carpenter is an expert at carpentry, you see?

You get all the things that you want done for 2 percent

Monday, June 18th, 2018

Is Singapore antifragile?

Singapore has size going for it. You see that we’re talking about a city-state.

Who’s gonna invade it? One thing I’ve learned from history, particularly the Phoenicians. The Phoenicians don’t really have an army or an empire. At some point they had some army, but you might say it’s not economically viable. Why? When you come to invade them, unless you’re Nebuchadnezzar, and supposedly the history books say that he was very nasty, but then fact-checking take place. The genetics don’t actually show what really may have happened.

A guy comes in, very bloodthirsty, comes to you, and you tell him, “Listen, what do you want? You kill us all, you get nothing. Land is not interesting. What are you going to get? We’ll give you 5 percent. What do you want, 5 percent of something or 100 percent of nothing?”

That’s how the Phoenicians operated. Someone would come in. They had a hiccup with Alexander, one pound higher than a hiccup with Alexander.

They had an ego problem on both sides, but other than that, it worked very well as a system.

[The Seleucids did conquer the Phoenicians, right?]

The Phoenicians? No, the Seleucids came in, they said, “OK.” The system, at the time, was patronage. You come in, you’re a vassal state.

You guys here, you don’t understand. I live in New York City, so I have two options. One, pay the state — with all of this now, it’s going to go 50-some percent taxes — and you almost get nothing. Or, you can go to mafia now and give them 2 percent, and you get protection.

You get all the things that you want done for 2 percent. That’s exactly what happened. Think about the defense budget if it were run by the mafia.

The guy would come in, and the system at the time was the system of — when you say “conquer,” the imperial methods everywhere, including the Ottomans, before them the Romans, before them the Seleucids and the Ptolemies. The Ptolemies had more integration.

The whole technique was, you come in… And remember that government role, the GDP was, at the turn of the century in France, 5 percent, OK, last century. So having been, you’re not part of anything, you’re just paying taxes to someone you’ll never see — that was the thing. The integration usually was through commerce, not through military conquest.

The idea of Singapore, someone invaded — let’s say Malaysia decides to take over Singapore. What are they going to do with that? They’ve got nothing. It’s much better for you to go to Singapore, tell them, “We want 2 percent.” Or “We want 10 percent.” And then they will break it down to 3 percent.

We’re not in here to eat mozzarella and go to Tuscany

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

The point is that we are imperfect, Nassim Nicholas Taleb explains:

And the way you can function best is accepting we’re imperfect. It’s why we have theology. You want perfection, you can find it in theosis and find a lot of things.

Incidentally, to go back to the idea of being orthodox, theosis is a way for us humans to rise above our condition as human, and it’s given to us openness, this equal opportunity for anyone. If you consider that we are imperfect, and the way you can arise, this sense of honor, by doing duties or self-sacrifice, then you have a lot of risk in the game.

It’s taking risks for the sake of becoming more human. Like Christ. He took risks and he suffered. Of course, it was a bad outcome, but you don’t have to go that far. That was the idea.

I didn’t talk about theosis. I just mentioned it in one footnote. It’s like we understand that we’re not in here to eat mozzarella and go to Tuscany. We’re not in here to accumulate money. We’re in here mostly to sacrifice, to do something. The way you do it is by taking risks.

Some people take risks and some people labor in the fields. You have the option of doing either one or the other. But my point is you should never have someone rise in society if he or she is not taking risks for the sake of others, period. That’s one rule.

You should try practice, then theory

Thursday, June 14th, 2018

Nassim Nicholas Taleb had plenty to say to Bryan Caplan about what’s missing in education:

You know the Romans despised theory, and the Greeks despised practice, which is why The Black Swan is dedicated to Mandelbrot, a Greek among Romans, and the next one is dedicated to Ron Paul, a Roman among Greeks.

[...]

The route I was suggesting, education, is you send people, you make people work as nurses and then they go to medical school. Effectively, I spoke to a lot of doctors, and they think it’s a good idea because they’re afraid of medicine being now too theorized, becoming too theorized.

You make people run a local racketeering shop or a casino or something like that, for seven-eight years and then you go study economics.

We’re living longer, so this idea of front-loading education makes no sense.

[...]

I started trading and then discovered math. I said, “Oh, this is interesting.” I started discovering math, so I got immersed into math, and 15 years later, I went back to school. I went back to try to do math and effectively doing those classes. I did my thesis and that was it. But the idea — I started writing papers — the idea of having to start by theory and ending up with practice doesn’t work.

You should try practice, then theory.

[...]

Then, the root of that, my feeling, in the Anglo-Saxon world is the desire — this is why they call it liberal arts education — to aristocratic ties to themselves.

Again, let’s talk about the Greco-Roman world. You had the trivium or quadrivium, absolutely nothing practical about them, the rhetoric, the grammar, some things. The liberal education was what people learned in order to become aristocrat and idle upper class.

Then you had the real professions of becoming a baker, how to do something with wood. And the English, the upper class — of course they didn’t want to be working class, so they sent their kids to learn that stuff. And this is what came to America.

Education is split in two. You have technical education like law — not technical, but professional education — law, medicine, what else? Engineering and all these things, and then you have mathematics. If you look at it historically, the engineers didn’t really connect to the other ones because the Roman engineers did not use Greek geometry.

We only started using Greek geometry late in life after the educational system started including mathematics for these people. Engineers built cathedrals without clear geometry. It was actually more robust.

Geometry will give you these ugly corners. Before, we didn’t even know what the right angle is. Before, it was more involved, it was rule of thumb, and it was different. They had the separation, segregation.

So what you want to do? Is this liberal education that’s contaminating the rest? Or is it the technical that’s contaminating the expectation of what education should be like?

You say, “OK, this is the kind of thing you do like piano lessons on the weekends.” You read Homer and stuff like that. It’s important, and you become civilized. Stuff you do to be civilized and be able to have dinner with the vice president of the World Bank, these are the things you do. And these are the things you do to get you ahead in life.

[...]

You end up with a lot of people, in fact, today, this generation — because of the competitive environment and the closed circuit in the humanities — that basically don’t know anything about humanities. All they know is the theories du jour about this and this, and the postcolonial approach to this or that.

For example, when you start arguing with people who studied about something called Middle Eastern studies — which shouldn’t exist as a discipline — they start talking about colonialism of the French.

The French spent 21-and-a-half years in the Levant as a United Nation mandate. Explain to me the colonialism.

They say, “Well…” They don’t even know the basic facts because the more you have a ratio of theories and way more -isms, and stuff like that and the Marxism, so someone that’s good at Marxist interpretation of this and this in the postgender world. And they don’t know the facts.

This is why we can’t rely on these instructors to teach you the humanities — because you don’t get tenure from knowing the facts. You get tenure from inventing some full structural theory of baking beans and mint in Sassanid Persia. That’s how you get your tenure. These guys are ignorant.

[...]

The problem is, as society got rich, everybody wanted to reach education by imitating the aristocrats, with the illusion that it’s going to help them get rich.

When in fact, it’s the kind of thing you do when you’re already rich. This is where Alison Wolf and Pritchett come in to discover that these educational things are effectively the product of societies that are rich and definitely not causative to wealth.

Human action is not the only relevant parameter in human history

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018

Human action is not the only relevant parameter in human history, Razib Khan reminds us, as he reviews Kyle Harper’s The Fate of Rome:

The Fate of Rome is fundamentally a work of history, but it also takes ecology and evolution seriously. In fact, it foregrounds them. Kyle Harper makes the argument that the expansionary phase of the Roman Empire was not necessarily coincidental, or at least it was lucky indeed because there was a climatic optimum, similar to the one which preceded the demographic expansion of medieval Europe. In contrast, in the 6th century, the world went through some of the coldest years in the Holocene because of a combination of fluctuations in solar radiation and volcanic explosions. I assume that the likelihood of the latter is Poisson distributed, so the combination of decreased radiation and several successive volcanic events can be chalked up to randomness. But its consequences were not random at all.

The climatic changes can have demographic and social consequences obviously. Desperate armed pastoralists can overwhelm states, and change the course of history, just as peasants can rebel from taxes and subordination. And, pastoralists can also bring Yerisina pestis, the plague. Climate is an abiotic pressure which is to some extent an exogeneous shock which occurs randomly, and does not react to human feedback. [This is not totally true, but over the time-scales we’re talking about probably mostly true.] Disease though is a biotic pressure, and though it may relate to abiotic forces, human interaction and agency matter quite a bit.

The Fate of Rome clearly hinges on abiotic factors as initial drivers: a good harvest is good for the state. But the biotic factors, disease, are partly under the control of the state. The Romans did not have germ theory, and were under constant stress due to the high pathogen load, especially of the cities. Harper presents the evidence of high mortality within Roman society well. Because of the endemic ubiquity of disease even elites were impacted by it. But Rome was not just affected by endemic ailments, it was subject to pandemics and plagues.

[...]

One of the major insights that Kyle Harper reiterates is that these plagues, these pandemics, are a feature/bug of the Roman imperial system. They are not just the consequence of simply settled agricultural society. As described in books such as Pandora’s Seed, agriculture and settled society transformed the lifestyles of human groups, and many diseases which were rare in hunter-gatherer populations probably became common among farmers. But The Fate of Rome the author argues that pandemics were a novel outcome of complex imperial state-systems with long-distance trade-networks. Small-scale pre-state Neolithic chiefdoms did not have the scale and interconnections to foster plague.

Mass pandemics of smallpox, plague, and influenza are then aspects of civilized life, not, settled agricultural life. This puts the argument of Charles C. Mann in 1493 into greater focus. It wasn’t just more extensive and intensive agriculture in the Old World which left Amerindians vulnerable, it was also that the Old World had thrown up several massive imperial systems which had incubated pandemic producing pathogens (smallpox and influenza epidemics were a major issue in New World societies). These were unleashed at once upon New World societies.

It also suggests to us why adaptation seems to be occurring in the last few thousand years. Bouts of plague which persisted for generations may have driven immunological responses.

Kyle Harper also seems to agree with the general thesis in The Fall of Rome that this period in European civilization was in some ways proto-modern, with economic specialization resulting in a modicum of affluence in ways unimaginable in times before, or after. Trade and some level of mass production allowed British peasants to eat off tableware that was standardized, and not homemade. In contrast after Britain’s post-Roman regression a more local economy had to step in. The most curious fact from The Fall of Rome is that pollution in British ponds did not attain Roman levels until the early modern period, with the rise of industrialization. Again and again The Fate of Rome emphasizes that social and economic complexity achieved in the Roman Empire was not attained in Europe again to the same scale as the early modern period.

Roman wealth was fundamentally due to the returns on scale and specialization that are the hallmark of Smithian growth. Though the Romans did invent a few things, Roman prosperity was not fundamentally driven by innovation. Rather, the Roman peace was a framework for trade and exchange that took advantage of abiotic clement conditions (the Roman climatic optimum highlighted in The Fate of Rome).

But this political system had biotic costs, as well as being subject to biotic shocks. Though Romans may have been wealthier than their Iron Age predecessors in things, and also wealthier than their early medieval successors, they were also a smaller people. Using isotope data Harper suggests that this is not due to Malthusian immiseration as the imperial population pushed up against food supply. Apparently Romans did not subsist on gruel alone, but ate a fair amount of meat, especially pork. Rather it was the high pathogen load enabled by the advancement of Roman urban life and its scale. Rome was a world of intense morbidity.

It’s boring, and who cares?

Friday, May 25th, 2018

“What are the biggest mistakes other scholars are making,” Robin Hanson asks Bryan Caplan, “from the point of view of making the kind of scholarship you wish they would make?”

Type III error, getting the right answer to the wrong question — that is my main view. Most work that I read that I don’t like, I don’t so much think it’s wrong. It’s that it’s boring, and who cares?

That’s honestly my reaction when I flip through a journal is, suppose you’re completely right. Who cares? Suppose you’re completely right. Who cares? That’s what I say for 80, 90 percent of pieces that I read.

This does not mean that I think that you can’t write a good piece on a narrow topic. But it’s got to be because you convincingly argue that it really reflects something bigger than just the topic itself.

I can really enjoy reading a book about the French Wars of Religion because it’s not just about the French Wars of Religion. It’s about the nature of human religiosity, and about the way that dogmatics try to tear society apart, and about, is religion primarily social, or doctrinal, or what’s the interrelation between them? That kind of thing.

To me, that’s the main thing, is just that it’s boring and who cares?

The second biggest thing is the focus on disciplinary boundaries, where people usually, if they’re going to read, they only read within their field. Economists read economics. Even that is optimistic. You usually read within your subfield of economics or your sub-subfield.

What I always say is, “Look, if you really want to understand something, don’t read what other people in your niche are doing or have read. Read what anyone who has thought about the issue has read, and it’s quite likely you’ll learn something.”

Now, ultimately, I will say this: I think it does come down to academic incentives because those people in the fields that people aren’t reading don’t help you. They don’t do stuff for you. Honestly, I think most scholars are primarily about career advancement. I don’t think there is that much curiosity.

I remember, this is actually one of the things that disturbed me most when I became an assistant professor. When Tyler started telling me all about these backstories about professors. Finally I get to get behind the curtain — not anybody in our department, but other departments, others.

Finding out… the thought of someone who started off really curious and, in the end, they’re just consumed with this pettiness over someone not citing them. Why do they care? Every citation translates into a statistical $100 a year.

This kind of mentality, it did horrify me at the time. I’ve gotten over it, but still this is the kind of thing when I step back… I think you become a scholar to go and advance human knowledge on important questions. I just don’t see many people doing it or even using the methods that you would want to use, which is, step one, go and read what anyone who has really thought hard about the question already knows.

You have good policy, good ideas, good growth all mutually supporting each other

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

Bryan Caplan describes his notion of The Idea Trap:

The motivation of the idea trap is twofold.

First of all, I had these empirical results out of public opinion that said pretty strongly and surprisingly that people who have higher income do not think more like economists, but people who either have experienced or expect higher income growth do think more like economists. So the level doesn’t matter, but the change does.

Essentially, the more optimistic view seems to actually push people in this economist direction. So there is that fact in my mind.

And then there was also this big literature on non-convergence where, at least for a very long time, economists were expecting that poor countries would tend to catch up to rich countries. Then they looked at the data and weren’t seeing it happening. Further, there’s this literature saying at least a lot of the reason why this is happening is that countries that are poor just very persistently have bad policies.

So I took these three facts and said, “Let’s come up with a little model. The model will have three variables, which we’ll call growth, policy, and ideas.”

The model will have the following laws of motion: Good ideas cause good policy, which is almost a tautology. Good policy causes good growth, and that’s almost a tautology. And then the last thing is, how does growth affect ideas?

What I said is, there’s a usual view that if you have bad growth, then people realize they’re making mistakes, and then ideas get better. On the other hand, maybe if you’re having good growth, people said, “We can afford to live a bit. We don’t need to worry about this so much,” so ideas get worse.

In that model, that actually gives you growth convergence, and basically, all countries tend to be mediocre. But I said if we tweak the models in light of that public opinion finding, where supposed good growth actually gives you good ideas, bad growth gives you bad ideas, this actually gives you a model of multiple equilibria, where you can have one equilibrium where everything is good.

You have good policy, good ideas, good growth all mutually supporting each other. Or you could have bad ideas, bad growth, bad policy all mutually supporting each other.

In terms of 2018, at least the story you might tell in a lot of countries is, there are countries that are in the bad equilibrium where, say, they’ve had some bad growth, which then led to bad ideas, which I generally in the paper equate with populism, leading then to populist policies.

2018 is not that great, just because the actual growth for most countries is good right now. It made more sense during the Great Recession when there was bad growth, and then there were a lot of kooky ideas coming around.

In a way, I would think of the last few years as cutting against my model because it seems like people are getting very angry and very populist when it’s hard to even find what the supposed cause of it is.

God hates a politician who takes any action without calmly and studiously studying the facts

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

What are the most socially valuable delusions or shared erroneous beliefs?” Bryan Caplan takes at stab at answering:

That is a good one. Hmm. I am tempted to say something along the lines of God will punish you for bad behavior. But the problem is that’s mixed in with — so many things of the bad behavior is actually good behavior and the good behavior is actually bad behavior that I’m not convinced that is all that socially useful.

Probably a better answer is the delusion that money will buy happiness. There is an enormous amount of progress that is caused by people desperately going and trying to get rich. I think the actual psychological evidence is the money won’t actually lead to all that much happiness, but the things they produce are quite a bit more likely.

Probably, in terms of the most happiness-producing stuff, I would think may be actually in the arts, where so much of the stuff was produced by people where, if they just did a reasonable ex ante calculation, would have said, “This isn’t worth it.” But the reason why we have it is because they ignored the odds or overestimated themselves, so maybe that.

“Which mistaken shared beliefs would he like to see adopted?”

Let’s see. Probably the idea that there would be some kind of eternal, horrible punishment for holding power and not having a very high degree of epistemic rationality, especially if there were a view that God hates a politician who takes any action without calmly and studiously studying the facts, and that God will punish you in a way that voters never could.

God would punish you in a way that’s far worse than the simple loss of power. If that were widely believed by people of power, I think there would be a lot more effort to actually double-check that what they’re doing really makes sense. The Spiderman Principle — with great power comes great responsibility.

You’re sent back in time to the year 527 AD

Monday, May 21st, 2018

You’re sent back in time to the year 527 AD, Tyler Cowen posits:

Let’s assume you’re good enough at learning languages. Where would you pick? And why?

Bryan Caplan chooses Byzantium:

First of all, of course assuming you’re good at languages, Greek as a Western language would be easier. I think that is actually the biggest city in the Western world at the time. It’s the one where you’d still have at least a modest amount of Greek and Roman thought which has been preserved. Really center of civilization by that point.

That would be the place where you’re most likely to have smart people around — there’s things that you can do with your mind — and least likely to get ripped apart by barbarians.

[...]

The temptation to become a government adviser under those circumstances would be painfully high. As to whether I could actually find some role there where I would not be morally horrified is a tough call.

If I could get away with just being a teacher, if I have what I know, then to actually go and found a school and teach economics 1,300 years before the rise of modern economics and try to jump-start the Industrial Revolution and economic growth and social science and everything else. Emotionally, that would have by far the strongest pull on me.

If that weren’t available, then there’s room in business, banking, moneylending, shipping. I think I could learn those. Wouldn’t be thrilled. But it beats rowing an oar.

The new freedom would come to pass instead as the result of a Go-Getter Bourgeois business boom

Sunday, May 20th, 2018

The saga of the Me Decade begins with one of those facts that is so big and so obvious that no one comments on it anymore:

Namely: the 30-year boom. Wartime spending in the United States in the 1940s touched off a boom that has continued for more than 30 years. It has pumped money into every class level of the population on a scale without parallel in any country in history. True, nothing has solved the plight of those at the very bottom, the chronically unemployed of the slums. Nevertheless, in Compton, California, today it is possible for a family at the very lowest class level, which is known in America today as “on welfare,” to draw an income of $8,000 a year entirely from public sources. This is more than most British newspaper columnists and Italian factory foremen make, even allowing for differences in living costs. In America truck drivers, mechanics, factory workers, policemen, firemen, and garbagemen make so much money — $15,000 to $20,000 (or more) per year is not uncommon — that the word proletarian can no longer be used in this country with a straight face. So one now says lower middle class. One can’t even call workingmen blue collar any longer. They all have on collars like Joe Namath’s or Johnny Bench’s or Walt Frazier’s. They all have on $35 Superstar Qiana sport shirts with elephant collars and 1940s Airbrush Wallpaper Flowers Buncha Grapes and Seashell designs all over them.

Well, my God, the old utopian socialists of the nineteenth century — such as Saint-Simon, Owen, Fourier, and Marx — lived for the day of the liberated workingman. They foresaw a day when industrialism (Saint-Simon coined the word) would give the common man the things he needed in order to realize his potential as a human being: surplus (discretionary) income, political freedom, free time (leisure), and freedom from grinding drudgery. Some of them, notably Owen and Fourier, thought all this might come to pass first in the United States. So they set up communes here: Owen’s New Harmony commune in Indiana and 34 Fourier-style “phalanx” settlements — socialist communes, because the new freedom was supposed to be possible only under socialism. The old boys never dreamed that the new freedom would come to pass instead as the result of a Go-Getter Bourgeois business boom such as began in the United States in the 1940s. Nor would they have liked it if they had seen it. For one thing, the homo novus, the new man, the liberated man, the first common man in the history of the world with the much-dreamed-of combination of money, free time, and personal freedom—this American workingman didn’t look right. The Joe Namath-Johnny Bench — Walt Frazier-Superstar Qiana Wallpaper sport shirt, for a start.

He didn’t look right, and he wouldn’t… do right! I can remember what brave plans visionary architects at Yale and Harvard still had for the common man in the early 1950s. (They actually used the term “common man.”) They had brought the utopian socialist dream forward into the twentieth century. They had things figured out for the workingman down to truly minute details such as lamp switches. The new liberated workingman would live as the Cultivated Ascetic. He would be modeled on the B.A.-degree Greenwich Village bohemian of the late 1940s — dark wool Hudson Bay shirts, tweed jackets, flannel trousers, briarwood pipes, good books, sandals and simplicity — except that he would live in a Worker Housing project. All Yale and Harvard architects worshiped Bauhaus principles and had the Bauhaus vision of Worker Housing. The Bauhaus movement absolutely hypnotized American architects, once its leaders, such as Walter Gropius and Ludwig Miës van der Rohe, came to the United States from Germany in the 1930s. Worker Housing in America would have pure beige rooms, stripped, freed, purged of all moldings, cornices, and overhangs — which Gropius regarded as symbolic “crowns” and therefore loathsome. Worker Housing would be liberated from all wallpaper, “drapes,” Wilton rugs with flowers on them, lamps with fringed shades and bases that looked like vases or Greek columns. It would be cleansed of all doilies, knickknacks, mantelpieces, headboards, and radiator covers. Radiator coils would be left bare as honest, abstract sculptural objects.

But somehow the workers, incurable slobs that they were, avoided Worker Housing, better known as “the projects,” as if it had a smell. They were heading out instead to the suburbs — the suburbs! — to places like Islip, Long Island, and the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles — and buying houses with clapboard siding and a high-pitched roof and shingles and gaslight-style front-porch lamps and mailboxes set up on top of lengths of stiffened chain that seemed to defy gravity and all sorts of other unbelievably cute or antiquey touches, and they loaded these houses up with “drapes” such as baffled all description and wall-to-wall carpet you could lose a shoe in, and they put barbecue pits and fish ponds with concrete cherubs urinating into them on the lawn out back, and they parked 25-foot-long cars out front and Evinrude cruisers up on tow trailers in the carport just beyond the breezeway.

[Ignored or else held in contempt by working people, Bauhaus design eventually triumphed as a symbol of wealth and privilege, attuned chiefly to the tastes of businessmen’s wives. For example, Miës’s most famous piece of furniture design, the Barcelona chair, now sells for $1.680 and is available only through one’s decorator. The high price is due in no small part to the chair’s Worker Housing Honest Materials: stainless steel and leather. No chromed iron is allowed, and customers are refused if they want to have the chair upholstered in material of their own choice. Only leather is allowed, and only six shades of that: Seagram’s Building Lobby Palomino, Monsanto Company Lobby Antelope, Architectural Digest Pecan, Transamerica Building Ebony, Bank of America Building Walnut, and Embarcadero Center Mink.]

By the 1960s the common man was also getting quite interested in this business of “realizing his potential as a human being.” But once again he crossed everybody up! Once more he took his money and ran — determined to do-it-himself!

Highly rated but still underrated

Sunday, May 20th, 2018

Bryan Caplan considers his colleague Robin Hanson highly rated but still underrated:

Just the sheer intellect of Robin is, for me, still hard to fathom. Just the way that I have told Robin stories that I’ve told a hundred other people, and only he notices a logical error in the story. That to me is super impressive. Just the sheer intellectual enthusiasm.

Even the topics — when he gets on what I think of as sci-fi topic, those are the parts where I am least happy. But again, if you just read the blog, the range of things that Robin has thought about is actually vast, just in terms of breadth and depth and just sheer curiosity.

I’ve said this quite a few times. When people get really mad at me, that doesn’t bother me. When someone gets angry at Robin, this is what actually outrages me. I just want to say, “Look, to get angry at Robin is like getting angry at baby Jesus.” He’s just a symbol and embodiment of innocence and decency. For someone to get angry at someone who just wants to learn…

This is an item that science says you don’t need

Saturday, May 19th, 2018

It would definitely be worth it to run some experiments on education, Bryan Caplan argues:

When you’re spending an enormous amount of money, you can take off 2 percent of it, and then use standard social science random assignment to really learn something.

It’s been pointed out that a high percentage of government spending on healthcare is for medical research, but only a very small amount of education spending is for education research.

The main disappointment there is, despite all the education research, it seems like it’s not very often actually used for any education policy. Medical research, you might have a similar pessimism, but I don’t think it’s as bad as that at least.

It’s not as bad as there being a big literature saying that highlighting is totally ineffective for improving student learning. Yet almost every kid in America still has a highlighter. It’s actually on the list of mandatory school supplies for Fairfax County: “You must have a highlighter.” This is an item that science says you don’t need. Yet everyone must have one to be at school.

Most parents don’t care about test scores

Friday, May 18th, 2018

Have K–12 vouchers underperformed?” Tyler Cowen asks Bryan Caplan:

I would say yes. This actually barely appeared in my book because it was not really central to any of the topics I was talking about. But my understanding of research on K–12 vouchers is a lot of people thought that they would substantially raise standardized test scores. And it’s hard to see a big gain there.

This is puzzling because it sure seems like there’s way better ways to improve test scores, starting obviously with just teaching the test. Many people say people are teaching the test all the time. Whenever I actually look at my kid’s schools, like, what are you talking about? There’s three practice tests. If I wanted to teach the test, there would be a hundred practice tests. That’s how I would handle it if you told me, “Get test scores up.”

I think the main thing that we learn from this is that most parents don’t care about test scores. When you give them a choice, they aren’t looking around for the school that will raise kids’ test scores the most.

They’re looking around for other things. Part of it is just convenience or location. Probably another big part of it is whether the kids are happy. I think we agree this is actually one of the most undervalued benefits of school choice, just giving kids some options so that kids that are crying and miserable at one school can go and take that money and go to another school.

Tom Wolfe is dead, but the Me Decade lives on

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

Nick Gillespie of Reason argues that Tom Wolfe’s enduring — and fundamentally libertarian — contribution to contemporary discourse is his 1976 New York essay that christened the ’70s the “Me Decade“:

Writing during a time when most wise men (and they were mostly men back then) were obsessed with inflation, unemployment, and other measures of macroeconomic malaise, Wolfe was nearly alone in underscoring that consumer goods and lifestyle options had been radically democratized in postwar America. Forget the soul-killing depredations of the Cold War, giant corporations, cheap money, rising taxes, and government’s expansion into every nook and cranny of life, he counseled. Wolfe focused on the pent-up psychic demand for freedom, individualism, and meaning in a country that had recently withstood a decade-plus of Great Depression and World War. The only thing worse than the impending apocalypse due to nuclear war, environmental catastrophe, overpopulation, or the Second Coming was that the world wouldn’t end and we’d have spent our time on Earth punching the clock for a soul-killing job with great dental benefits. In the goddamn Bicentennial Year, Wolfe argued, Americans were done with building Maslow’s pyramid of needs for other people, especially their social betters. Who among us was going to follow slow-witted concussion-cases like Jerry Ford or lusting-only-in-his-heart Jimmy Carter into the twilight’s last gleaming? It was our time to shine, baby!

This disease of credential inflation seems to be serious

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

Normally, Bryan Caplan hates it when people go and find one new story as proof of something:

But there was a recent one from South Korea so vivid, where even if you say that it is cherry picked, still, that such a cherry exists says something.

This was a story about, the government in South Korea wanted to hire four janitors, and most of the applicants had college degrees. In the end, they hired three BAs and one AA to be janitors there. This disease of credential inflation seems to be serious in countries where people think of education as something that’s central to their success. I don’t think so.