Listen, Learn, and Empathize

Two of Tyler Cowen’s six insights from the Kavanaugh saga.

1) Alcohol is an underrated factor.

I am struck by how many of the accusations — from various women, not just Ford — suggest a role for alcohol in tales of abuse. Whether or not you believe any particular story, few can argue that alcohol is never connected to this kind of behavior. In the 1980s the U.S. had a major crisis with teen binge drinking and alcoholism, and many of those problems persist today, albeit at lower levels.

You might think the hearings would lead to a new consideration of alcohol as a major social crisis. If so, I haven’t seen it. Just a few weeks ago the World Health Organization released a report suggesting that 3 million deaths annually could be attributed to alcohol, or 1 of every 20 deaths worldwide. That barely made a splash in the news.

Closely related.

2) There is an asymmetry between male and female perceptions.

Most men are not abusers, yet very large numbers of women have been abused. So if a man is an abuser, there is a good chance he has abused a fair number of women.

That means many well-meaning men experience sexual abuse as a relatively rare phenomenon. They haven’t done it, and most of their male friends haven’t either. At the same time, most women have abuse, rape or #MeToo stories, and they experience these phenomena as relatively common and often life-altering. Probably they also have heard multiple such stories from their female friends. This structural asymmetry of perspectives is crucial to understanding the discourse and the often fundamental differences in opinion.

I would go further. This structural asymmetry of perspectives is why it’s crucial out-of-touch men get with the program and listen, learn, and empathize.

Review Week—One Consumer Product Review a Day

Everyone is saying my consumer products reviews are brilliant, but infrequent, and you dear readers, deserve better. Thus, beginning in an hour, I’m going to review one consumer product a day for seven days. Plan your week accordingly.

This overview is intended to make Review Week even more life-changing than it otherwise would be. Before we get going, scrape together $1,042.64, the cost of all seven products combined. The cool-factor (and prices probably) of these products is about to sky-rocket and you don’t want to be left on the outside looking in.

Most product reviewers write in a way that suggests our quality of life hinges on their uber-detailed, super serious deconstruction of the product at hand. I will take a different tack. Since we are not our consumer purchases, my aim is to lighten up the genre with ample doses of sarcasm. So the not-so-hidden-agenda is to poke fun at the mindless materialism perpetuated by reviewers.

According to economists, we often buy consumer goods to “signal” things about ourselves to others, look I’m well-to-do, look I’m on top of the trends, look I’m smart, look I’m an environmentalist, etc.

The following reviews are informed by my fondness for the ancient Stoics who believed status, wealth, and hedonism are impediments to tranquility or “inner joy”. But even Stoic sympathizers like myself have to buy things on occasion.

The reviews are also informed by books like True Wealth by Juliet Shor. Shor argues we should be more materialistic, by which she means more thorough and thoughtful in our purchasing of products, so as not to waste money and contribute even more to our ever expanding landfills. Shor, and other progressive social scientists, argue that we should signal, if anything, environmentally conscious, pro-social values through our consumer purchases.

As one of the 7.6 billion people on the planet, my goal is to find products that “just work”, offer good value, and last a long time. I concede, that may come across as boring, but I’m also susceptible to beautiful materials and design, as my current love interest, the new Audi A7, illustrates. In the interest of keeping the week’s price total down, I decided not to purchase and review that. Yet.

See you shortly.

 

Males Last Bastion—Economics

Last week, after reading Tyler Cowen’s predictions of which men might win the Nobel Prize in economic science, I wondered why do males so dominate economics when females are steadily pulling away from males in educational attainment? Why do female economists find the upper echelon’s of the field so elusive? More specifically, where is the female half of Nobel Prize winners in economic science?

Increasingly, economics is applied math. I do not believe men are better than women at math. For me, if there’s some kind of proof of that contention, it simply begs more questions, particularly, why are men (allegedly) better than women at math. I suspect there are differences between men’s and women’s brains, but I don’t believe for a second that the part of men’s brains that do math is somehow superior to that part of women’s.

I suspect the All Star economist gender discrepancy lies in the male dominated cultures that typify elite economics graduate schools. For now, male privilege perpetuates itself in the top doctoral programs.

Here’s Cowen’s interesting summary of the winner’s work.

 

Friday Assorted Links

1. The British Open has always been my favorite golf tournament because of the history, creative shot making, hellish bunkers, cold wind and rain, and the gorse of course. I’m going to miss it.

Englishman Nick Faldo, a three-time Open champion, said it is no longer correct to call it the Open Championship. “Now it’s ‘The Open. In another five years, it will just be called ‘The.’ ”

2. Tyler Cowen on his writing process.

“I try to write a few pages every day. I don’t obsess over the counting, I just do as much as I can and stop before I feel I am done, so I am eager to start up again the next day, or after lunch. That to me is very important, not to write too much in a single day, but to get something written every single day.”

3. Principals are loath to give teachers bad ratings.

“When principals are asked their opinions of teachers in confidence and with no stakes attached, they’re much more likely to give harsh ratings, researchers found.”

4. So this is why eldest daughter chooses to live in Chicago.

“Another interesting trend is that all cities in Southwest, from Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, are taco cities. Burrito cities are mostly from the Midwest and West. California has cities in both categories. It appears that SoCal prefers tacos (LA and San Diego), while NorCal prefers burritos (San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose).”

Clearly, burritos > tacos, so I need to visit Indianapolis and San Fransisco.

5A. Trumpcare collapsed because the Republican Party cannot govern.

“In truth, it was never possible to reconcile public standards for a humane health-care system with conservative ideology. In a pure market system, access to medical care will be unaffordable for a huge share of the public. Giving them access to quality care means mobilizing government power to redistribute resources, either through direct tax and transfers or through regulations that raise costs for the healthy and lower them for the sick. Obamacare uses both methods, and both are utterly repugnant and unacceptable to movement conservatives. That commitment to abstract anti-government dogma, without any concern for the practical impact, is the quality that makes the Republican Party unlike right-of-center governing parties in any other democracy. In no other country would a conservative party develop a plan for health care that every major industry stakeholder calls completely unworkable.”

5B. The Republican healthcare meltdown.

“The larger lesson of this sorry episode is that nobody—not McConnell, or Trump, or House Speaker Paul Ryan—can resolve the contradictions of today’s Republican Party. Once the political arm of the Rotary Club and the affluent suburbs, the Party is increasingly one of middle-class and working-class voters, many of whom are big beneficiaries of federal programs, such as Medicaid and the Obamacare subsidies for the purchase of private insurance. But the G.O.P. remains beholden to its richest, most conservative donors, many of whom espouse a doctrine of rolling back the government and cutting taxes, especially taxes applicable to themselves and other very rich people. It was the donors and ideologues, with Ryan as their front man, who led the assault on the Affordable Care Act.”

5C. Trump’s clueless abdication of presidential responsibility.

“Predictable and despicable” are more apt than “clueless”.

“The first duty of any President is to protect the welfare of the citizenry. In blithely threatening to allow the collapse of the Obamacare exchanges, through which some twelve million Americans have purchased health insurance, Trump was ignoring this duty. Arguably, he was violating his oath of office, in which he promised to ‘faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States.'”

How To Find a Boyfriend

In case you’re looking for one. In one word, PowerPoint*. So says Jessica Guzik.

And if you’re looking for one, and are not a serious gamer, you should probably limit your search to college grads. Economist Erik Hurst via economist Tyler Cowen on what young men are doing.

In related news, I’m slowly working my way through The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing The Patterns Of Intimate Relationships. I think HLerner knew if she pitched it as a “Woman’s Guide” I couldn’t help myself. Savvy. A pgraph to ponder from the early going:

Making a long-term relationship work is a difficult business because it requires the capacity to strike a balance between individualism (the “I”) and togetherness (the “we”). The tugs in both directions are very strong. On the one hand, we want to be separate, independent individuals—self-contained persons in our own right: on the other, we seek a sense of connectedness and intimacy with another person, as well as a sense of belongingness to a family or group. When a couple gets out of balance in either direction, there is a problem.

The Good Wife and I successfully balance that seesaw about a third of the time. Which if we played professional baseball, would make us All Stars.

*nice to know PowerPoint isn’t a complete catastrophe

Think Globally, Yeah Right

I predicted this story about Ethiopia becoming the next China nearly twenty years ago after living there, traveling in other sub-Saharan African countries, and becoming a student of globalization.*

Long story short, the outsourced manufacturing race to the bottom has entered it’s final stage. China’s average manufacturing wage is 3,469 yuan ($560) per month. Pay at Ethiopia’s Huajian shoe factory (18 miles outside of Addis Ababa) ranges from the basic after-tax minimum of $30 a month to about twice that for supervisors.

A paragraph to ponder:

Huajian’s 3,500 workers in Ethiopia produced 2 million pairs of shoes last year. Located in one of the country’s first government-supported industrial zones, the factory began operating in January 2012, only three months after Zhang decided to invest. It became profitable in its first year and now earns $100,000 to $200,000 a month, he said, calling it an insufficient return that will rise as workers become better trained.

Meanwhile, last week, George Mason economist and blogger extraordinaire, Tyler Cowen, wrote in the New York Times about income inequality. The title is the thesis, “Income Inequality is Not Rising Globally. It’s Falling.

Here’s the gist of Cowen’s argument:

We have evolved a political debate where essentially nationalistic concerns have been hiding behind the gentler cloak of egalitarianism. To clear up this confusion, one recommendation would be to preface all discussions of inequality with a reminder that global inequality has been falling and that, in this regard, the world is headed in a fundamentally better direction.

The message from groups like Occupy Wall Street has been that inequality is up and that capitalism is failing us. A more correct and nuanced message is this: Although significant economic problems remain, we have been living in equalizing times for the world — a change that has been largely for the good. That may not make for convincing sloganeering, but it’s the truth.

A common view is that high and rising inequality within nations brings political trouble, maybe through violence or even revolution. So one might argue that a nationalistic perspective is important. But it’s hardly obvious that such predictions of political turmoil are true, especially for aging societies like the United States that are showing falling rates of crime.

I’m positively predisposed to counter-intuitive thinking, but Cowen was hopelessly naive if he thought his NYT readers might concede even some aspects of his argument.

Here’s the comment Cowen’s readers most liked:

You’ve Got to be Kidding

This article is a classic example of a divide and conquer strategy. The gist is that less educated and skilled people in countries like the U.S are suffering but those in other countries are gaining. Hence, the world is equalizing. So, if you complain about the U.S., you are essentially wishing harm on others. In reality, what the “miracle” of capitalism has done is what it always does — it enriches owners of capital and exploits labor. Developing countries are, of course, better off; they started from nothing, and so anything is an improvement. So production is moved to places where people are desperate, and profits rise because of poor wages, no attention to work place safety, no regard for environmental concerns, etc. Yet, we are to celebrate because the workers in the poor countries are no longer earning zero. This logic then absolves companies from any criticism about the horrendous working conditions. After all, global inequality is falling!

The author also glides over the fact that people live in particular societies and their own inequality is most important. It matters for the distribution of political power (Citizens United, anyone?), for health (see, e.g., studies by Richard Wilkinson), for education, for housing and for a host of other things.

Finally, the author predictably criticizes redistribution (what, not unions?) But the real issue is changing the rules of the game so things aren’t rigged for elites. If so, redistribution will be less needed.

The other most highly rated reader responses were similarly critical. Taken together, they illustrate people’s unwillingness to compare themselves to foreign people in distant places. It’s no surprise that economically secure professionals like Cowen and myself choose cosmopolitanism, but for anyone else who lacks economic security, its a luxury they can’t afford.

It’s the same reason the well-to-do, who can afford higher prices elsewhere, brandish “I Don’t Shop at Walmart” bumper stickers. Cowen embraces cosmopolitanism because his university and book publishers and blog sponsors pay him handsomely; and his university provides his health care; and, like me, he has extraordinary job protections as a tenured professor; and he travels the world doing research, lecturing, and teaching.

I don’t begrudge him his professional success, but for him to assume others will embrace cosmopolitanism based upon his logic suggests he’s woefully out-of-touch with those that are struggling to get by.

Cowen might respond to that criticism by insisting that it’s in everyone’s best interests to think more globally, and I’d agree, but it’s going to take far more than abstract New York Times essays to get people to think beyond their household, community, state, and nation.

imgres * Rest assured, normally my predictive skills are nothing special. For example, I was sure Jay-Z and Beyonce would live happily ever after.