Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Immigration comedy

This is pretty well done. The one bit that is not explained is why we are not morally obligated to have open borders, which would seem to follow from the arguments he makes, absent other considerations.

Via MR

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

On college admissions

The New York Post offers an entertaining bit on Yale undergraduate admissions by a former admissions officer. Missing from this article is any understanding that the optimal number of admissions "mistakes" does not equal zero. It is interesting despite that.

For a deeper treatment, from a somewhat different place in the academic pecking order, I can recommend the book Creating a Class by Mitchell Stevens. The author embedded himself in the admissions office of a good-but-not-the-very top liberal arts college. I found the background it provided really useful in thinking about academic college match.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Super Bowl L

Some thoughts:

1. Defense wins championships.

2. Peyton Manning is a class act.

3. What happened to the Roman numerals? Last year was Super Bowl XLIX. This year, Super Bowl 50? Where were the angry mobs of high school Latin teachers demanding that the NFL "Go to L"?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

On the water in Flint

Lots of incompetence (and concern with the daily battle of the talking points rather than with actually doing one's job) to go around at different levels of government and between the red and blue teams. This story by a reason writer attempts to allocate the blame.

This WaPo story seems more worried about loss of "trust in government" than about the health effects. No explanation is provided for why the residents of Flint should have trusted government prior to this episode.

Plus a nice piece from 538 detailing the roles of both local citizens and concerned professionals and a piece from David Warsh on the role, or lack of a role, of the press.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

On corporate hubris and ineptitude

The sad but informative tale of Target's foray into Canada.

Charlie will like this bit:
A small group of employees also made an alarming discovery that helped explain why certain items appeared to be in stock at headquarters but were actually missing from stores. Within the chain’s replenishment system was a feature that notified the distribution centres to ship more product when a store runs out. Some of the business analysts responsible for this function, however, were turning it off—purposely. Business analysts (who were young and fresh out of school, remember) were judged based on the percentage of their products that were in stock at any given time, and a low percentage would result in a phone call from a vice-president demanding an explanation. But by flipping the auto-replenishment switch off, the system wouldn’t report an item as out of stock, so the analyst’s numbers would look good on paper. “They figured out how to game the system,” says a former employee. “They didn’t want to get in trouble and they didn’t really understand the implications.
Quantitative performance management is never as simple as it seems.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Book: Hive Mind by Garett Jones

Jones, Garett. 2015. Hive Mind: How Much Your Nation's IQ Matters So Much More than Your Own. Stanford, CA: Stanford Economics and Finance.

I read this because the folks at Marginal Revolution were pushing it. The title makes the book's thesis clear and the author does a good job of making the case for his views by marshaling evidence from a variety of disciplines. I was surprised at how much of the material was familiar to me from other things I had read, though I still appreciated the thoughtful arrangement of the familiar bits into a clear and fairly compelling argument.

Four things bothered me about the book. First, even conditional on being aimed at a general audience of intelligent readers, I found the writing annoyingly simple at times. The book is, say, a 3.5 / 10.0 on a scale from "not academic at all" to "Varian's graduate micro text". I would have preferred a 5.0 or 6.0 book. Maybe the author will write that one next. Second, in trying to make the case that national average IQ matters, the author minimizes the value of own IQ conditional on national IQ, but does so without putting much effort into justifying that point. Perhaps I am overly influenced by the Murray and Herrnstein Bell Curve book which I read as showing that individual IQ is a non-trivial predictor of nearly every adult behavior. Plus there is no real need to make this case: it can be true that both individual IQ and national average IQ have meaningful explanatory power. One does not preclude the other. Third, I would have liked a chapter on within-country sorting by IQ and why it does not function to partly undo the effects of national IQ. Certainly in countries like the US with a lot of residential and social segregation by education and income (and thus implicitly by IQ) this would seem relevant. Finally, the part of the book that was newest for me was a discussion near the end of a model of the labor market that combined a sector with an o-ring technology, where the average skill matters, with a standard Cobb-Douglas sector where it does not. Trying to explain this model without the math and at the 3.5 level of academic sophistication made things really frustrating for this reader, particularly as it seemed to me that some of what were offered up as general points may well have depended on specific functional form assumptions.

Recommended with the above caveats.