Wednesday, March 31

Saturday, March 27

Highly educated but lacking in useful skills--me?

I see little evidence of a conscious political effort to lump those who are highly educated but lacking in useful skills together with those who are highly educated and actually useful skills, even if that's the way of society in general and the academy in particular.

However, it's true that teachers are rarely trained to teach effectively. Moreover, I know from personal experience that when teaching at the college level at least, we're not pushed to find ways of improving learning outcomes. Instead, we're rewarded on the basis of student evaluations (which basically comes down to how much the students like us), and research, which may or may not have much classroom relevance.
(I posted this as a response to Arnold Kling's post but it's not showing up yet, and I wanted to save the links to the two articles mentioned.)

Obama's Rain Dance

Arnold Kling writes:
Don Boudreaux reminds us that when the stimulus was sold it was with a promise that 90 percent of the jobs created or saved would be in the private sector. Before anyone can focus on the outlandish claims made for the stimulus, we now have the outlandish claims made for the health bill. No doubt we are about to hear outlandish claims for the financial regulation bill and whatever new initiatives the ruling class wishes to impose on the country.
Boudreaux links to They Don't Call It Stimulus No More
Like a rain dance that produces no clouds, we are now into our fourth round of federal deficit creation - the automatic "stabilizers," followed by the Bush (2008), Obama I (2009), and Obama II (2010) versions. With each dry day, the deficit dancing intensifies. When the rain finally falls, we will be told that the recovery is a tribute to the Keynesian Gods. But it's already clear that something has gone wrong: the "stimulus" chant has fallen silent. Our dance on a fiscal cliff has lost its theme music.

Wednesday, March 24

Happiness

From Elizabeth Kolbert's review of Derek Bok's “The Politics of Happiness: What Government Can Learn from the New Research on Well-Being”:

...the incomes of the country’s top earners have, in recent decades, grown several times as fast as those of the earners at the bottom. But the statistics show that, over the past few decades, the subjective well-being of those at the bottom has remained unchanged. If the poor aren’t bothered by the growing disparity, Bok asks, why should anyone else be?

“The most obvious reason for deploring income inequality is our instinctive sympathy for those who must make do with many fewer goods and services,” he observes. “It is not immediately clear, however, why growing inequality should elicit such compassion if lower-income Americans themselves have not become less happy.”

So much for policy to alleviate economic equality. Because job loss leads to unhappiness, Bok, trained as a lawyer, wants more generous unemployment benefits, apparently assuming they'd make people happier. But would they?

Kolbert also discusses Carol Graham's “Happiness Around the World: The Paradox of Happy Peasants and Miserable Millionaires”:

[Nigeria]’s per-capita G.D.P. last year was about fourteen hundred dollars. (In real terms, this is significantly lower than it was when the nation declared its independence, in 1960.) Yet the proportion of Nigerians who rate themselves happy is as high as the proportion of Japanese, whose per-capita G.D.P. is almost twenty-five times as great. The percentage of Bangladeshis who report themselves satisfied is twice as high as the percentage of Russians, though Russians are more than four times as rich, and the proportion of happy Panamanians is twice as high as that of happy Argentines, though the Argentines have double the income. Research that Graham has done in Afghanistan shows that, despite three decades of war and widespread destitution, Afghans are, on average, a pretty cheerful lot. (The most cheerful areas of the country tend to be those in which the Taliban’s influence is stronger.) Graham’s research in Latin America shows that the very poor are often remarkably upbeat. “Higher per capita income levels do not translate directly into higher average happiness levels,” she writes.

So much for our war in Afghanistan.

Also, Jean Kazez notes,
[A] study of 90,000 people across 26 European countries...found that "to belong to a religion is positively correlated with life satisfaction." You can see how that might be. Belonging increases the chances of believing. And believing increases optimism ("God will provide, protect, prevent, etc."), which is strongly correlated with greater happiness.

Now here's the surprising part. Everyone is more satisfied with life in areas that are more religious, including the atheists. And everyone is less satisfied in places with more atheists. "Having a higher proportion of atheists has a negative spillover effect for the religious and for atheists alike." Apparently, to some considerable extent, our attitudes about life are held collectively. We don't individualistically base our outlook simply on the beliefs lodged within our own skulls.

Wednesday, March 17

A clear conscience

Children as young as 10 years old used to stitch footballs until there was an international outcry about it. The sports companies, accustomed to nurturing their image with huge sums of money, got worried about their reputation. So they sided with human rights campaigners and exerted pressure. In 1997, Pakistani suppliers and representatives of Unicef and the International Labor Organization signed the Atlanta Agreement in which the industry agreed to stop the use of child labor.

Thousands of children lost their jobs overnight...

Children Now Work in Brickworks Instead

Parents now send their children to the brickworks and into metalworking companies where no one is worried about corporate image. The families need the money to survive. The local sports companies are aware of what's happened but they want to fulfil the wishes of their Western customers. After all, the people who spend a lot of money on footballs want to do so with a clear conscience. The customer in a sports retail outlet doesn't realize that young girls are now hauling bricks right next door to Danayal, the stitching factory.

"Ten or 12-year-olds were well off here," says one manager who asked not to be named. "They learned a trade here that secured them an income for life. Now we're having trouble finding new stitchers."

Tuesday, March 2

There's a difference?

Many who have lived through the turmoil...believe that the root problem is his inability to grasp the difference between running a fast-food business and an institution of higher learning.

pass me that cake

Yesterday my lunch companion announced his new weight loss strategy—he’s eating more cake. He’s got it figured that if he eats enough cake now, it will motivate him to take up running someday (even though he’s never run before). So he ordered a slice of chocolate cake and announced that he’d just lost two pounds.

Of course, my friend wasn’t entirely serious; he was just gearing up for a possible future at the Congressional Budget Office, which says we can reduce government spending by enacting the president’s health reform proposal. They’ve got it figured that if we pass this proposal now, it will motivate future cuts in Medicare (even though nobody’s ever had the stomach for those cuts before). If I understand the numbers right, they’re counting that as a “saving” of several hundred billion dollars. Well, pass me that cake.