Monday, May 28, 2012

College dropouts in low demand

Investor's Business Daily reports
Unemployment for those 25 and up with some college but no degree was 8% in April compared to 6.6% for the age group, measured on a more volatile seasonally unadjusted basis. In the same month, the jobless rate was 7.7% for 25-and-up high school grads with no college and 6.2% for those with a two-year college degree.
That is really surprising. You would think that employers would be looking for people who have demonstrated . . . disinterest in hard work by dropping out of college?

They also report
Out of 9 million unemployed in April, 4.7 million had gone to college or graduated and 4.3 million had not, seasonally adjusted Labor Department data show.
Since (based on numbers in the article) it is implied that there are about twice as many college graduates and drop-outs as people with a HS diploma who never attended college, the implied unemployment rate for college attendees is half of the other group. But that wasn't worth mentioning.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

End the FDA

Opposition to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) practice of using randomized trials to determine the safety and efficacy of treatments is picking up steam.

On the right, Tea Parties oppose the existence of government regulation in an industry and claim that randomized trials are a con spiracy or something promoted by the liberal elite. In a letter to Sen. Thad Cochran one constitution wrote that "a real man knows when he feels better and when he doesn't" while "the spineless at Harvard use people as guinea pigs" to decide which pills to take.

On the left, those traditionally in favor of heavy handed government regulation that drives up prices for corporate cronies and protects consumers, have shifted to opposing randomized trials. They note that sometimes unsafe pills make it through trials or harm people during the trials. They argue that, as with the death penalty, if one innocent person ever dies as a result of a drug innovation policy then the policy is unjust. Critics have noted that, as with the death penalty, if drug innovation saves more lives than it eliminates then a reasonable analysis would consider the costs and the benefits but liberals have responded by covering their ears and shouting "I'm not listening."

What do journalists do?

Is it just me or is it a little sickening that Fortune pays to run a cheerleader blog for a corporation?

We love to be tribal about sports so there are thousands of cheerleader blogs for every team in the MLB, NFL, etc.  That seems natural. The hagiography coming from blogs dedicated to individual players is a little disturbing but I think its mainly just the benign extension of tribalism about pro sports.

Blogs that write for one "side" of an ideological war are almost surely harming political discourse but politics is ugly so it's probably inevitable. TV stations that cheer on one party, on the other hand, probably should only exist in China.

But blogs that cheer on a corporation? That's a bit much for me to stomach. I don't think I'm going to read anything at Fortune again anytime soon.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

If Mark Zuckerberg can do it ...

CNN reports
Zuckerberg told ABC that Chan inspired him to try to learn Mandarin Chinese in one year. The venture wasn't very successful, he said, but he picked up enough to talk with Chan's elderly grandmother.
If Mark Zuckerberg can achieve basic competence then surely I can. I've never thought Harvard douches and businesspeople have anything on us MIT alums and regular Joes.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Corporate Conspiracy

Today Ron Paul suspended his campaign after his staff divided itself into two warring factions. College dropouts and those kids that read Ayn Rand books in high school are coming to blows across the country over claims that Ron Paul's campaign is a front for a corporate conspiracy.

A CNN iReporter writes that the Ron Paul campaign is funded by a consortium of Fortune 500 companies seeking complete control of the economy. Reportedly Ron Paul does not believe in anything he was campaigning for saying, off the record, that "this gold standard idea is a farce" and "only someone who has studied any economics since 1920" could support it.

Supporters insist that the report is just a rumor and that, even if true, Paul still represents the cause of unfettered liberty. Joe Smith, a longtime supporter from Tampa, FL, said that "we all knew the cause of unfettered liberty would lead to domination by our corporate or military masters, so whether it happens on day 1 or day 100 of his presidency is immaterial." He later added that "while you do not have the right to use force to regain your freedom, our ideal government does not enforce that so you might as well."

Nevertheless, nearly half of Paul's former supporters have become its biggest critics citing "undeniable evidence of a major corporate conspiracy to strike down the Constitution." Ben James IV, a sociologist at Harvard, said this was "not unexpected" as "all the conspiracy theorists loved Paul, every 9/11 truther in America has been to a Paul rally." Many are now accusing Paul of spearheading the 9/11 attacks.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Jagdish Bhagwati Smackdown Alert

This is funny:

CommentsAgain, the worldwide influence of the powerful liberal media in the US should not be underestimated. While The Economist backed Okonjo-Iweala, The New York Timesendorsed Kim. This is an election year in the US: if President Barack Obama had nominated a lamppost, America’s “newspaper of record” would have found it to be possessed of excellent credentials.

The rest is here. I'm not as down on Kim as he is. Michael Clemens has a smarter but less funny take somewhere on thee CGDev blog worth reading.

Jon Haidt

Most of the time when a smart guy like Jon Haidt writes a book, the central objection to his argument is addressed preemptively in the book and/or quickly gets a vigorous discussion in roundtables and book reviews.

I didn't read a lot of praise and discussion about Jon Haidt's new book that argues (1) people based their politics and ethics on intuition, not reason which is, I think, a mainstream belief and (2) we can learn valuable lessons from other's moral intuitions to sharpen our moral intuitions and improve our reasoning as opposed to the mainstream position that the lesson is in how to manipulate people.

The idea that our moral intuitions can help us reason better is runs counter to my intuition. Why would our brains have involved good intuition on whether inflation targeting is a good response to a liquidity trap? But I haven't seen any summaries of Haidt's response and the specifics of what, exactly, I'm supposed to learn from conservatives.

I'm pretty sure that the answer is that Haidt's position is contradictory on a lot of points and if that is the case I don't want to read the book.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Indictment of high schools

The New York Times printed a pretty terrible article on student debt. It points the finger at a lot of people but never high schools which should come across as the biggest criminal:

Kelsey Griffith graduates on Sunday from Ohio Northern University. To start paying off her $120,000 in student debt, she is already working two restaurant jobs and will soon give up her apartment here to live with her parents. . . . 
Ms. Griffith, 23, wouldn’t seem a perfect financial fit for a college that costs nearly $50,000 a year. Her father, a paramedic, and mother, a preschool teacher, have modest incomes, and she has four sisters. . . .
“As an 18-year-old, it sounded like a good fit to me, and the school really sold it,” said Ms. Griffith, a marketing major. “I knew a private school would cost a lot of money. But when I graduate, I’m going to owe like $900 a month. No one told me that.”

You would think that someone who graduated from high school in America in 2008 would know how to calculate their payments by, for instance, typing "student debt calculator" on Google. The first website,, says she should expect to pay over $1,000 a month.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

edX, MITx, Harvardx

edX is going to be a major flop, like OCW. You heard it here first.

I have no idea what the goal of the project is, but across a wide range of possible goals it will fail miserably.

Why? MIT isn't particularly good at educating it's own "residential" students!

Update: This has been my most popular post so I should add some less factitious comments. The general sense I get from edX, Coursesa, and other massively online courses is that they do not have much in the way of a mission. I can't tell if edX is a motivational product, a learning tool, or what. You could compare it to a gym. Gyms provide free weights, stationary bikes, treadmills, and the like to help you work out. But for most people these machines provide little advantage over just jogging around the neighborhood. edX provides courses, but if they are anything like most MIT courses, they probably aren't much better than a good textbook or notes. Maybe the value of the courses is that they are a motivational device, or a signaling device, but no one has explained to me what they do for people beyond "educating" them and I'm skeptical about that.

I think universities mostly generate value for students by helping them to network with peers and alumni, motivating them to work through nudges like social pressure to attend class and traditional incentives like grades, and signaling that people are "smart" (this interacts with networking). I don't see how edX could be good at any of that anytime in the near future.

That said I don't think edX is a waste of money. With the future of high education so uncertain there is a lot of option value to having an online education system "ready to go" and, as I noted earlier, MIT's undergraduate education is by and large pretty terrible. If MITx courses draw interest from people who care about teaching then perhaps MIT will see a shift of student out of classrooms where the teachers suck and into classrooms where the teachers are passionate about designing good class.