31.5.03

SUMMER TRAVEL OPPORTUNITY. Transport Blog visits Samizdata, and discovers the London Duck Tours (if you neglect the corks, do you have a Yellow Submarine, Patrick?). Ah, nostalgia. The concept of DUKW-as-sightseeing-craft got its start at the Wisconsin Dells (still operating, company details here). Smithsonian has noticed them, a local business restores and operates them and you can work your way through college driving them, but you'd best be handy with the stick and the lost art of double-clutching (clutch in, move selector from gear to neutral, clutch out, clutch in, move selector from neutral to new gear) to make it as a Duck Driver.
MORE ON INEQUALITY. Professor Drezner's promised post is up, and it's extensively researched. He illustrates a number of ways in which the lot of poorer people has improved in absolute terms, in ways that don't show up in the income accounts. Cal Pundit has a response, focusing inter alia on the return to a university education: "He gets the "income mobility" argument right, I think, but is much too sanguine about the health of the middle class. Sure, more kids are going to college, but that's never going to be more than a minority of the population. And while resentment toward the rich may indeed be muted in America, will it stay that way if current trends continue? I have my doubts." I'll leave the second point to the yuppies to sort out. Bottled water and a $50 serving of pasta and sauce that would be miserly in the Gulag fail to impress me (spark up the barbie, grill the bratwursts, open the PBR, that's good enough for me, and I scratchbuild my toys, thank you very much.)

Cal Pundit misses the college point completely. Just about anybody who wants to go to college can probably find someplace that will accept them. Only a minority of the population might be able to get a slot in one of the highly ranked schools, but that's irrelevant if your only criterion is making money. (It might make a difference if you aspire to be a court intellectual to the Democratic Party or get into Polite Blue State Society or the right law firm or an influential public policy magazine, but I digress.) The more troubling problem facing the students, the universities, and the employers is the loss of signal stemming from the consumerist mentality of some students and parents, catered to by administrators and some professors, the use of the university to do over what the high schools fail to do in the first place (and some corporations then hire people to provide the information the universities don't deliver), and the fear of low grades that might steer students away from the subjects that yield higher returns on their investments.

30.5.03

IT'S CALLED A MARKET TEST. "So when [Alabama music professor Marvin Johnson] learned last fall that the average assistant professor in the business school was earning $72,691, while the average full professor in the humanities made $63,531, he was shocked, he says. 'It seemed completely out of whack,'" reports Katherine S. Mangan in the Free Chronicle (via Political Theory.) "He decided that something had to be done. At his urging, the university's Faculty Senate voted last month to endorse a proposal that would put a cap on raises for the most highly paid professors on the campus, many of whom are in law and business. Schools that still wanted to pay their professors more could do so by charging higher tuitions, the proposal says." As. If. There's. Anything. Wrong. With. That. Students in the lucrative degree fields are harvesting many of the gains from trade for themselves, with the administration skimming some of the take to pay for assessment of the obvious, beer-'n-circuses, diversity boondoggles, and academic fads. That's not how everybody sees it.

"'There's a tendency to value very obvious practical gain over human enrichment,' says Charles W. Nuckolls, a professor of anthropology at Alabama. 'That's why it's easy to see why professional schools, which emphasize their practical focus, get more money,' he adds. 'The long-term consequence will be the erosion and eventually the demise of the liberal arts, particularly at state-supported schools.'" Not. The demise of the liberal arts began long ago, with the gutting of the core curriculum. There's plenty of evidence that rigorous schooling in the liberal arts enables such graduates to make connections that more "practically" trained (and yes, I am using different verbs deliberately) graduates cannot. Put most simply, a business degree has greater entry-level but less upside potential than a liberal arts degree. But where does one get such a core curriculum any more? Your general education requirement is more likely to resemble a railway tariff: some class rates here, some commodity rates there, an exception or exemption under footnote (b).

"The salary differences have been exacerbated because the market for top talent in law, business, and medicine has become increasingly competitive. In business, that's largely because of a shortage of business doctorates. In other professional schools, the obsession over a program's ranking is often said to account for much of the intense competition -- and higher pay -- for 'star' faculty members. Whatever the cause, professional schools are shelling out big money to attract new hires." Tournament in progress? Is the tenure system and the graduate program so cumbersome and so unresponsive that additional Ph.D. programs in business and related disciplines are not forthcoming (shameless plug: check out Economics 640)? Are the transaction costs so high, and the ignorance so great, that aspiring academics can't arbitrage the difference? How big a compensating differential do professors require to put up with business students?

Somehow I suspect I won't persuade Professor Johnson: "'The notion that someone who's devoted his or her life to a field and has earned two promotions is somehow less worthy than someone right out of graduate school is ludicrous, but that's the way it is,' he says. 'It isn't just about money. The whole value system is skewed toward professional schools and their needs at the expense of traditional disciplines.'" On the other hand, if university composers wrote music that people would listen to, some in their ranks could become the next John Williams, or Jerry Goldsmith, and be able to buy way more toys than those Masters of the Universe wanna-bes in the Faculty of Commerce. In fact, they could double-dip, and sell their music to the studios after presenting their juried recitals. Or would you prefer to go to the Football Model, where very few people earn two promotions, because most are out after a losing season or two? There was an article in Journal of Political Economy some years ago about precisely that tradeoff: how do you protect people against the possibility that their work will be obsolete in ten years?
PROFESSOR-WEBLOGGERS. Invisible Adjunct and Gallowglass link to and remark on a Free Chronicle news report on professor-webloggers. My take: this elder is quite happy to misbehave on these screens. It's probably spared ten vice-presidents from hearing nasty words in three or four languages. (If you're unfamiliar with Slavic languages, doing the decimal expansion of pi is almost as effective if you have the right intonation.)
STEEP GRADING CURVE. On Thursday, I was a guest of the Securities Industry Foundation for Economic Education, operators of the Stock Market Game, at their annual conference for state coordinators. At one of the sessions, a presenter noted that more college students drop out account credit card troubles (here's a test for libertarians: what restrictions ought a university place on sales efforts, including t-shirts and other inducements, that credit-card and cell-phone companies put in front of students?) than account bad grades (or boyfriend or girlfriend problems, or are many of those fallout from credit cards.)
GETTING THE WORDS RIGHT. James Lileks bleats about Star Trek, and somebody (I saw it but can't place it and my history files aren't helping) posted on Klingons and Tribbles (please advise if it's yours or you saw it, in the interest of proper attribution) and it included a quote from Captain Kirk, "And unfortunately, though the Klingons are brutal and aggressive, they are most efficient." (source) Somewhat later that season, Enterprise called at Ekos, where Captain Kirk's history professor goes Plato and Herbert Croly one better by attempting to be a benevolent Nazi (scroll down to "Patterns of Force.") One of the professor's advisors reads the omitted bits of Mein Kampf und Sie kennen was stimmt, nicht wahr? So what reason did the professor give: "most efficient," a proposition that Spock agrees with (a tiny country, defeated and broke, becomes a world power in ten years.)

There are two reasons for being skeptical of Star Trek's politics. First, Spock's training in logic didn't equip him to distinguish between "effective" (Klingons, Nazis, the Ba'ath Party on a good day, any organized crime family, and Tammany Hall are all quite effective) and "efficient" (which calls for a standard. I like either "allocating resources in such a way that any production involves an opportunity cost" or "identifying and acting on all possible gains from trade") and by either standard the organizations named above do not qualify as efficient. Second, the Star Trek mindset appears to treat efficiency in the second sense as some kind of cosmic evil. If it's not betting quatloos on gladiators, it's portraying the Ferengi, intergalactic traders, as sleazy. So much to do, so little time to do it...

UPDATE: Truck and Barter's superintendent emails, it's this.
NO TIME TO DO IT RIGHT, LOTS OF TIME TO DO IT OVER. Chester Finn on the waste of resources involved in remediation-across-the-curriculum and the horizontal inequity of subsidized tuition at flagship state colleges. Joanne Jacobs provides color commentary.
MEASURE INPUTS, NOT OUTPUTS. The marginal product of $282 per student is 64.7 more points (on a scale of 0 to 100) on a state assessment test. Dean's World suggests there are some omitted variables.

29.5.03

RAILFAN = SECURITY RISK. It's happening in the UK, reports Where Worlds Collide. It's been our reality Stateside since September 2001, with several articles in Trains. Perhaps there is reason for Network Rail to worry.
MEDIA CONCENTRATION? Shot in the Dark offers a history lesson.
THE ABOLITION OF WRITING. Term papers endangered in high school (via Newmark's Door.) Joanne Jacobs has commentary and an interesting anecdote. Number 2 Pencil links to demolitions of each of the excuses offered by teachers for not assigning papers.
VERBAL TERRORISM. Here's Porphyrogenitus's suggestion for dealing with unpleasant graduation speakers. What goes around and all that...
ENTRY BARRIERS? Econ Log takes a look at the academic job market. A commentator notes, "Nothing weeds out potential candidates like an integral or a differential equation," to which a colleague offered the perfect reply: "Yeah. So?" I would note only this: almost all the important theorems of mathematical economics come in the first chapter of a good real analysis textbook. The serious mathematics comes later. A game-theoretic argument is easier to follow than just about anything in Critical Studies. My. Eyes. Glaze. Over. But apparently putting together an argument in Critical Studies appeals to proportionately more aspiring academicians than does putting together a simple proposition that follows from specification of a criterion function.
FOSTERING INEQUALITY? More cross-references from Daniel Drezner (thanks, and welcome, visitors!) while Atlantic Blog is unimpressed with college subsidies, noting that human capital is a capital investment.
BUYING BETTER COURSE EVALUATIONS? Invisible Adjunct has some thoughts up. See also this.
MULTICULTURALISM FAILS AT NORTHWESTERN. Details here. OK, OK, I'm being a little bit outrageous to make a point. Leaving a graffito of a lynching on a student's door is not funny, not to mention being ill-mannered. But Northwestern has the usual line-up of diversity advocates, and a particularly aggressive program of agitprop information about treating others with respect that has been in place for years. It takes more than one series of incidents to make the case that the enterprise has failed.

Now for a little perspective: does it make sense to call the liberation of Iraq a failure just because some thugs set off some car bombs in Riyadh and Casablanca? Terrorist activities can be the efforts of a pack, not a herd, and not an organization, but taking away a paymaster cannot be judged a failure on the basis of one or two bombings. By that standard, Northwestern's entire diversity operation should have ended years ago.

UPDATE: Critical Mass links to two Daily Northwestern articles, one reporting panic legislation from the student government, in which one participant makes a stunningly silly comment, "The thing is to make the person as uncomfortable as possible." Would someone comfortable in his own skin have to write derogatory comments on another's door? The second takes the university to task for not catching an earlier perpetrator. But could administrators at Northwestern or any other universities make "Wanted, Dead or Alive" work as a diversity message?

Apparently the Bethel College administration could, for which the SCSU Scholars note that the Diversity Machine there is rusty.
TRACTION BOONDOGGLES in Orange County and in the Twin Cities. Common theme: build the lines where the people aren't. You don't have to be a promoter of the Chicago-New York Electric Air Line to see the folly. It might be worth looking at San Diego's trolley, which runs in a high-tension corridor in proper Milwaukee Electric fashion, and shares some trackage with the freight railroads. These latter-day light rail promoters could save the taxpayers a lot of money buying some model trolleys here (there are some tips on installing motors in these display models, if you know where to look, or ask the Superintendent of these Shops.)
NAROD'NIY BANK? Cal Pundit praises Santa Monica's failed attempt to abolish interchange fees at automatic cash dispensers: "But still, you have to admire the populist cred of cities like Santa Monica that are willing to go all the way to the Supreme Court to try to get banks to lower ATM fees.

So two cheers for them, even if it was a dumb idea
." Pah. Automatic cash dispensers are now available for installation in your convenience store, casino, city hall, or library. They're no longer bundled to banks. Had Santa Monica really been serious about abolishing fees, their city council could have appropriated some money, purchased some cash dispensers, and set them up in convenient locations. Hiram Johnson would have understood, as would Bob LaFollette. The Wisconsin State Life Insurance Fund continues to offer life insurance policies to Badger State residents in competition with the commercial providers.

The operators of cash dispensers have not covered themselves with glory in all this, as I once observed to a bank vice-president I know. When the cash dispensers came out, there were no service charges, and no penalty for using a machine at an untied bank. The service charges came later. It is easier to lower prices than to raise them.
THREE HUNDRED YEARS since Tsar Peter I founded his city in the Neva Marshes. St. Petersburg today has the largest streetcar system in the world. Read more about it here (pick the link called St-Petersburg Collection) and while you're at it, check out some of the models of Continental and North American traction in O Scale suitable to your country.
THE DIMINUTION OF TEACHING. Welcome, Invisible Adjunct readers. Herewith the promised rant on teaching, which is in general an agreement with Invisible's unhappiness with teaching-as-distraction. (I will let the humanities scholars discover for themselves that "fashionable gibberish" is not the same thing as real research. Game theory is easier going for me than some of the comments in some of the academic weblogs.) But it is to the dimunition of teaching that I wish to speak. Consider what passes for the current model of "teaching" based on a "business presentation": the "facilitator" sits everybody down, dims the lights, and starts running through a Power Point presentation. If the facilitator is particularly bad, the audience gets to read the slide silently while he reads it aloud. (The purpose of a slide, or a few items on a blackboard, is to identify major points. The teacher's job is to elaborate on the major points and to take questions. Got that?) In obeisance to the dictates of "distance learning," the Power Point presentation is available for downloading somewhere, a practice that encourages students to cut class and download the stuff on their own time. That's a bad practice for students to get into when they encounter professors with different styles, although most students are capable of reading silently on their own time. Under such a model, of what use is a scholar who is expected to do original research? Might as well have the University of Phoenix model with people vetted to read other people's slides (although somebody has to be doing some sort of research to keep the slides current, nicht wahr?)

There's just one problem with that "business model." It doesn't work. Pick up any Proceedings issue since about 1990 of the American Economic Review (that's the May issue, for the postulants, novitiates, and non-economists among you) and flip through the table of contents until you find the section devoted to "teaching economics." You will find at least one article arguing that "chalk and talk" doesn't work. Per corollary, Power Point and read doesn't work either. Some professors are catching on. In another 100 years the textbook publishers will figure out that what they're peddling doesn't work either. Passive learning, with memorization of slides and fill-in-the-circles "assessment," does not produce much retention of information, even among people who learn that way. Simulations, questions-and-answers, current events, active learning is more effective. That requires informed scholars who are up on, and under best circumstances, involved in, current research and current tricks of the trade. It's also expensive (that's going to be the rant for later Thursday or Friday, there is a lot of good stuff out there begging for commentary, but I have other commitments.)

Perhaps I'm just playing economics inside baseball. OK, read the master. Edward Tufte, author of The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (read it, aspiring curve-benders), pens (keyboards??) a particularly nasty smackdown of Power Point "presentations." Anybody who can make light of Stalin's "bullet list" ought to be widely read. (Thanks to Newmark's Door for finding this.) Alas, the "technology" simply provides another crutch for bad teaching. Kieran Healy has some observations in a similar vein. There is indeed more to it than making use of "technology." I claim that a pack of cards, or an olive tree, are better technology, and the students stay more involved, so they're not instant-messaging, or playing solitaire, or otherwise actively tuning out. (Thinking about their dates, that I can't control, nor would I want to.)

28.5.03

CARNIVAL OF THE VANITIES. This week at Dean's World.
THE ACADEMIC JOB MARKET. Lots of new posts from SCSU Scholars here, here, and here, from Invisible Adjunct here, here, and here, and at Econ Log, who asks, "In another industry, if there were an excess supply of workers, a competing firm might offer a lower wage in order to cut its costs. Why does this not happen at colleges and universities?"

In a way, it does. The research enterprise relies heavily on graduate assistants and, in some disciplines, adjuncts, to do most of the scut-work (photocopying in libraries, grading papers, teaching introductory courses -- that's a mistake in itself, but that rant comes later tonight, but not serving on committees or providing self-studies and assessments (find those rantssuch here and here)) and that's at the heart of the conversation in progress. More to come on that after the current wave of thunderstorms clears out.
THE EVOLUTION OF CONCENTRATION. Cal Pundit did some work with the income accounts to trace where the fruits of economic expansion went. His preferred outcome: "The short answer is: everybody. Workers ought to get 30% richer, bosses ought to get 30% richer, and the poor ought to get 30% less poor. There's really no special reason that any one group should get a lion's share of the increase, is there?"

No, there's no special reason, but there are a number of reasons that might make sense. Consider a retailing innovation in the Wal-Mart manner. The owners of Wal-Mart get richer in the form of additional capital income, which shows up in the national income accounts, and the consumers of Wal-Mart get richer in the form of lower product prices, which don't. Or consider an entertainment innovation in the boy band manner. Each of ten million kids pays a dollar to watch five kids perform. The five kids, and their support staff, get richer in the form of additional labor income, which shows up in the national income accounts, and the spectators get richer in the form of previously unavailable entertainment, which doesn't. And we haven't even begun to look at more involved topics including the return to education (which potential students partake unevenly of, and potential and actual teachers haven't figured out how to appropriate more of the gains from trade to) or the role of legal and illegal immigration.

UPDATE: Daniel Drezner has found several other contributors to what he calls a "roiling debate" and promises his observations Thursday.
TIME TRAVEL. Cal Pundit weighs in with some destinations and people. Be careful what you wish for. Here's a hypothetical: you get a time machine, you transport yourself to one of the great amusement parks of the 1920s to ride one of the extreme roller coasters of the day, and you cut yourself, or perhaps you're exposed to someone with a contagious disease, and you die account today's antibiotics (not to mention vaccines) haven't yet been invented.
STANLEY FISH, MUGGED BY REALITY? Details at SCSU Scholars.
THE ROLE OF WELFARE ECONOMICS. Truck and Barter finds an old, good suggestion.
IF YOU CAN'T GO TO COLLEGE, GO TO STATE. Phil Donahue fails to impress either Betsy's Page or Newmark's Door as a commencement speaker, although Gilbert Smith's successor saw a positive development: "I think we took a big step toward becoming a university on Saturday." Do what??
THE ORIGIN OF A PHRASE. Thomas Jefferson's "wall of separation" meme first appeared in a letter to a Baptist congregation in Danbury, Connecticut, explaining why as President, he did not proclaim days of thanksgiving in the Puritan tradition, which the Danbury Baptists had inherited. There is much more in this Michael Knox Beran essay (via Betsy's Page.)
INSTITUTIONS EVOLVE TO REDUCE TRANSACTION COSTS. Gallowglass detects a fallacy of insufficient alternatives in a David Frum (scrolling, scrolling, scrolling) proposal to establish property rights in endangered species. The main point is this: "[P]roblems such as overfishing aren't solved by privatization or centralization. Instead, they're best addressed by 'polycentric' governance systems, in which central authorities provide broad enforcement, but let local communities set their own rules as much as possible. For example, problems of overfishing of lobsters along the Maine coast have been solved by local 'gangs' of lobster fishermen that informally regulate certain parts of the coast, working in conjunction with the state government. This approach allows local users to use their specific knowledge to maintain resources while excluding free riders." (Captain Linda Greenlaw provides some local knowledge in The Lobster Chronicles.) Sounds like simple rules for a complex world to me. No one size fits all, with some sort of enforcement of property rights. The comments section to Professor Farrell's post are worth a look, although someone who would suggest (A) that selling the rights to hunt rare animals but would not discover (B) that it is worth breeding more rare animals to shoot rather than (C) selling all the rights is someone who could use a little more training in economics.
ON! WISCONSIN!
(Via Number 2 Pencil -- the archives may be Homesteaded -- who obviously doesn't do bratwurst or cheese either.)

25.5.03

ONLY RELATIVE PRICES MATTER. Virginia Postrel notes that falling prices are a consequence of competition, not necessarily deflation. (Via The American Mind.)
FUN STUFF IN THE FIRMAMENT. Jupiter aligns with Mars, or something. (Via Daniel in Chicago who found it on Drudge Report.)
SOCIALIZATION? Defenders of the common schools include "socialization," by which they presumably mean "plays well with others," not "learning playground words," as one of the benefits of schooling. But how well is it working? Business Week runs a long article on how boys are falling behind girls (via Critical Mass, with related commentary, see also Charlie Sykes). To what extent are the common schools, by looking the other way at yobbish fashion statements, helping set those guys up to fail?
CROZIER RAIL MOMENT. The 10.30 Northwest Line local is receiving passengers, and with the holiday and some evening events in Chicago, the train attracts large crowds, including some of our young men who haven't yet been properly socialized. One of them makes the mistake of unleashing a torrent of cuss-words (his vocabulary appears to be limited to such things) while the conductor is walking through, and the conductor goes to the upper gallery and informs him, "That's the kind of language that gets you off the train before your stop." The wretch goes into the blend, common these days, mixing contrition (sorry, sir) with defiance (you're on me because I'm young) and ultimately gets back to his default vocabulary, at which time the conductor tosses him and his buddies off the train, which hasn't yet left. A passenger nearby has a good imitation of the yobs in question: "Dude, Dude, they like totally tossed us off the train." Whether the dudes had a meeting with station security I don't know. And guys, what's with the backwards ballcaps? That's so September 10.
THE RESERVE ARMY OF THE UNEMPLOYED? Invisible Adjunct discovers Robert E. Wright's Market Solution to the Oversupply of Historians, offers comments, also raises objections to Laura Vanderkam's assertion that the current academic market "wastes Ph.D. brainpower."

Nothing quite like something about misallocation of resources to get the economists interested, as King at SCSU and Brad at Berkeley demonstrate.

What, though, to do with the self-selection puzzle present in the graduate programs? Figure that, yes, everybody who is admitted is an academic achiever, and yes, each one of them is capable of doing quality scholarship (although Northwestern's placement director Ian Domowitz -- where is he now? -- circulated a memorandum of hints for the job market that warned the quality of professors was less skewed than Ph.D. students would believe, and the quality of students was more skewed) but is the research calling really the type of market in which a tournament is most efficient at identifying talent (and Cornell's Robert Frank has written some gloomy stuff about that kind of market) or is the job of teaching and grading really so burdensome that it has to be farmed out as sweated labor? Or has the enterprise of higher education mutated into a credentialling mill in which a University of Phoenix that produces no original thought sets the pace for the rest?
GETTING THE WORDS RIGHT. A John Fund visit to the University of Chicago (via SCSU Scholars) reports on a student activity called "Competence Day." Give them credit for proper usage as well: the Blob (Joanne Jacobs's term for the "educational" establishment) gives itself away by the use of the term "competency" where they mean "competence."

18.5.03

LAKE MICHIGAN CROSSING. Badger celebrates fifty years as carferry.
PARVENUS. Highered Intelligence reports that prom-goers share Saddam Hussein's sumptuary tastes.
MAY 18 WAS A SUNDAY THAT YEAR TOO. That morning, Mt. St. Helens exploded. That afternoon, the University of Wisconsin conferred a Ph.D. in economics on me. No correlation or causation expressed or implied.
FAIR GO? Gallowglass points to a John Lemon activity in which students who earn high grades have to give some of their grade points to less-successful students, which he offers as analogy to welfare-state policies. D-Squared offers a clarification that makes a great deal of sense, and earns thanks and a followup from John Lemon (see, see, some Blogspot operators know how to refer to archives) and Junius is following the whole thing.

The analogy doesn't work completely, as the main policy problem is one of providing something resembling a "fair go" to all citizens, which starts at birth and in early education, but it does point up a subtlety. It is more sensible to speak of a "distribution" of grades than it is to a "distribution" of income. Grades are assigned by a professor, or perhaps by a committee, using some kind of algorithm (10% A, 20% B, 40% C, 20% D, 10% F; 92-100=A ...) and it's easy enough to assign grades on a compensatory basis (I posted on this some time ago but can't recall which month) and completely accurate to speak of someone "distributing" grades. Incomes are the consequence of spontaneously evolving trades, in which individuals choose to trade with other individuals, and there is no individual or committee making those assignments (I had a recent post on mutually-beneficial trades leading to large inequalities in income as well, perhaps can figure out indexing this thing someday) and hence to speak of income "distributions" or "redistribution" is a bit misleading.
FOURTH TURNING ALERT: Tony Blankley looks at the economic restructuring after a bubble burst (did you really pay $3000 for a warehouse with $10 of earnings just because it had a website?) and suggests the recovery might not be responsive to the usual sorts of fiscal and monetary stimuli (which exacerbate political business cycles?) (Via Power Line.)
WORDS I'D LIKE TO PROSCRIBE. As noted here, the University of Massachusetts (weren't they the Redmen when the Marquette Warriors were the last major team to turn down the NCAA for the NIT?) will keep their current Minuteman mascot (via Joanne Jacobs.) ZooMass Athletic Director Ian McCaw "expressed concern in the past about the white soldier's "='gender, firearms and ethnicity issues.'" Ever notice how people use the formulation "x+issues" when they're unwilling to say "I don't like it?" Another way of achieving the same thing is to use the term "problematic." That is another way of saying, "there's something about this I don't like, but making it more precise I can't do." If I ran the Word Police ...

17.5.03

THERE'S NO MARKET TEST. Invisible Adjunct has a couple of posts on the corporatization of the University. This one is rather long, but will reward careful reading. The problem, however, is worse than a clash of values, or of methods by which to achieve values. Consider "'Faculty-led budget allocation committees frequently bemoan the loss of teaching positions to this administrative growth,...' So the loss of teaching positions to administrative growth is explicitly and no doubt quite correctly associated here with the 'corporate' framework of values. This is stated quite matter-of-factly and perfunctorily, it is just cited in passing as one of many examples of the collision"

Only if one takes the proliferation of vice-presidents, reports laden with bullet points and other typography for dummies, and charts that defy parody (I have a particularly stupid one saved on my office computer, perhaps as a special treat ...) as equating to the corporate framework of values. Businesses, however, face a market test. That market test often means that under-performing middle managers and entire divisions get hived off and a few vice-presidents get trimmed from the rolls (Oliver Stone did get that part of Wall Street right). Contrast that with the kinds of things that contribute to the administrative bloat in the university: assessment of the obvious (there is something called a reputation, if graduates consistently fail to perform, the degree loses its cachet), beer-and-circuses (the Zoo Mass Minuteman, or Gray Wolf, or Chappaquiddick Bridge is only the tip of the iceberg, there are precious few intercollegiate sport programs that make money and successful programs where letter-winning seniors regularly graduate are rare), diversity boondoggles (first you hire people to turn differences into character traits, then you have to hire more people to smooth over the differences), and remediation follies (sometimes a byproduct of your diversity boondoggles, more often a consequence of the high schools, middle schools, grade schools, and kindergartens not doing their job.) Such expense-preference behaviors might emerge but are unlikely to survive long in competition among businesses.
POSSIBLE SOURCE OF COMPANY MAIL. Philosophy from the (617), recommended by Legal Theory.
NO FISHING OFF THE COMPANY PIER. The University of California system is working on a non-fraternization policy. Critical Mass has news, and the comments are worth a look, lots of ideas in play.

15.5.03

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT. Readership has shown a steady increase, with visits from different audiences at different times, since this service began in September. Thanks for the favorable cites, the "have you considered" arguments, and the occasional email comments. Postings will be somewhat sporadic in the next few months for a number of reasons, but when new posts are up the ping-site will get the word.


Cold Spring Shops traffic since its startup in September 2002 to end April 2003
(via Site Meter.)
FUTURE TUGS CHAMPIONS? Number 2 Pencil provides an annotated bibliography of punditry dealing with the recent powder-puff-turned-chumming party in Northbrook. The Superintendent favors any policy that will diminish the perps chances of getting into college, as some of the little darlings are likely to turn up in DeKalb otherwise. There are a few local columns on this party that Professor Swygert didn't mention. Perhaps on the weekend.
EXIT STRATEGIES. What good is a comprehensive examination and a thesis requirement if a coalition of Masters' students sues for degrees despite failing to submit a suitable paper and failing the examination, and the administration settles? I am not making this up. Invisible Adjunct has the sordid details.

14.5.03

STILL DANGEROUS OUT THERE: The Tillman brothers, both Army rangers, check in with Mom and Dad, are limited in what news they can give. (Via Andrew Sullivan.)
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "They don't think. They feel." Common Sense and Wonder names names.
RUNNING LIONEL ON SCALE TRACK? Professor Farrell takes advantage of the conclusion of "Survivor" to spin a parable about network theory as a way of understanding human conflicts that has some advantages over game theory. This commentary from Professor Healy provides some additional background. But chess as somehow isomorphic to the Florentine Courts? In principle, chess is solved. There is a final move. It is either a draw, a win for White, or a win for Black. Therefore, there is a sequence of moves by which White can force a win, Black can force a win, or Black can force a draw. However, nobody has demonstrated either of the first two outcomes (players keep finding improvements in lines unfavorable to either side, which is a good way to sucker your less-informed opponent into a false sense of security, you lead him into the previously favorable-for-him variation and whack him with the improvement.) Perhaps for each possible opening move by White there is a drawing move for Black, but there is no easy way to prove that conjecture. Similarly, for each "Survivor" cast member, there is a final move. You get voted off, or you don't get voted off. Therefore, there must be a sequence of strategies by which some player can force a victory. Indeed, "Keep your end-goals and specific strategies mysterious - try to be all things to all men and women. Maintain flexibility at all costs. And then go for broke when the opportunity arises" has similarities to luring your opponent into the favorable-for-him variation and then springing your prepared move. The courts of Florence pose a slightly different problem as it isn't clear what each courtier's objective is.

Methinks my finished-with-finals (true here as well) colleague goes a bit too far taking digs at economics and "Survivor." One could look for the mixed strategies, or the option value in using your immunity challenges, or tossing them to someone else, but somehow looking for deep insights into a contrived conflict designed to showcase Thirteenth Generation crudities (or am I thinking about baseball?) is less constructive than looking for the evolution of cooperation among purposeful individuals who might be revising their objectives in light of new information and with the responsibility of developing the rules as they go.

UPDATE: Professor Farrell has a bit more here including the useful argument that in a sufficiently complex problem (such as working out variations in a quiet position or participating in a one-and-done reality show), "[h]ighly complex games are more or less equivalent to indeterminate ones from the point of view of human beings, who have limited mental processing power." Quite so. The puzzle about whether or not chess has a solution goes into territory where I don't dare tread. Let's suppose that a sufficiently powerful algorithm can verify the folk version of the Zermelo conjecture (which I am treating somewhat less restrictively as a potential existence proof) and chess players everywhere will have to take up sheepsheadinstead). Per analogy to the four-color map conjecture, there are likely to be those mathematicians who will not accept an unbeatable (but does no better than a draw against proper play) chess algorithm as demonstration of the solution whose existence is suggested by the Zermelo conjecture.

I too am done with this particular story, as sailing season approaches.
THE EVOLUTION OF COOPERATION. Professor Farrell offers some thoughts on institutional economics and the evolution of governance structures. Evidently one of the central parables of political science is the parable of the offer you can't refuse. His post asks an interesting question, "where's the 'free market' in institutions?" and notes, "there are an awful lot of institutional arrangements out there that demonstrably have very little to do with efficiency or transaction cost reduction, and an awful lot to do with furthering the interests of social elites. Just look at the pervasiveness of corruption in various societies in the developing and developed world, at the practices of authoritarian regimes, and so on." Let's see, isn't the beginning of libertarianism consciousness the recognition that a protection racket with badges and regulations still a protection racket? But I digress. There is a continuum of governance structures, with the Ba'ath regime recently ejected from Iraq and the Sicilian Mafia at one end, and Milwaukee in the middle 1950s at the other, with Cicero, Illinois, and Milwaukee in the early 2000s somewhere between. There is also some research that connects the evolution of more transparent institutions with prosperity (see Rosenberg and Birdzell, How the West Grew Rich (you'll also find some interesting nuggets about the separation and transference of risk, but without transparent institutions good luck enforcing an insurance policy or a futures contract.) As a first cut, the "free market" in institutions is the movement of people from less-transparent to more-transparent governance structures. Lots of room for cross-disciplinary conversation here. Lots of promising economic work that fits in: on one hand there's David Friedman's Law's Order; on the other there's a whole bunch of technical stuff here (via Legal Theory, note presence of authors recommended here, somebody did a good job as seminar coordinator). Hal Varian (via Newmark's Door) looks at an expansion of markets and suggests, "Markets may be able to aggregate expert opinion in ways that help voters form beliefs about the likely consequences of various decisions." (This Virginia Postrel post might be of passing interest.)

All of this leads back to the behavioral economics course recently rejected at Harvard. Do you judge a model by the realism of its premises? What credence do you put on econometric estimates of cost functions if you reject concavity in prices? And what do you put in its place? There are certainly some things I don't understand about evolutionary stable strategies, but perhaps that's the best place to start. Breaking free of restrictive institutional structures (throwing off ad-hoc Mob rule for consent of the governed?) poses a somewhat harder problem.

UPDATE: Professor DeLong has some potentially germane observations about the emergent absolutist state.
SEPARATING EQUILIBRIUM? "The guard-to-inmate ratio for our prisons is much higher than the faculty-to-student ratios for our college systems," notes The Irascible Professor (via Invisible Adjunct.) Well, duh. The marginal product of the last dollar spent on providing a body in front of a room of self-selected individuals most of whom would like to be there is going to be different from the marginal product of the last dollar spent on providing a body in front of a room with the same number of individuals who neither chose to be there nor like being there. Irascible Professor notices one troubling substitution: fewer college courses in the Californian prisons.
COMMON CARRIERS. The Fall 2002 Journal of Economic Perspectives offers two papers on the economics of school vouchers. In "School Vouchers: A Critical View," Helen F. Ladd identifies a self-selection effect that she views as undesirable: to the extent that parents would use vouchers to improve the quality of their childrens' classmates, the lowest-quality students would be left with each other, and no examples of higher-quality classmates to emulate (or, in the Superintendent's jaundiced view, to beat up.) Derek Neal, in "How Vouchers Could Change the Market for Education," assesses a number of topics, including self-selection effects in Catholic schools ("many families and students who do not match well with either the religious culture or educational philosophy of Catholic schools would likely receive a voucher. These students would not benefit from access to Catholic schools ..."), changes in the labor market for teachers ("public school personnel policies are inefficient" with particular emphasis on time- and credentials- based salary schedules independent of field,) and the capital loss that vouchers would impose on homeowners in the best government school districts. Neal reports on some not-yet-published research on ability-based vouchers in which the most able students would receive a lower value voucher. His conclusion: "not possible to implement."

Both papers view the greater separation of students by aptitude or attitude toward schooling as a bad. Perhaps that's a topic for cross-disciplinary research. Should any good student have to sacrifice some of his education in order to provide a positive example to others less motivated? What are the incentives to parents to let their childrens' bad behavior slide, not to mention to actively enable it, never mind the consequences to that kid and the others in his class?
GARRISON KEILLOR HAD IT RIGHT. One of the opportunities a long graduate level examination offers is to catch up on some reading, in this case the Fall 2002 Journal of Economic Perspectives. Thomas J. Kane and Douglas O. Staiger write "The Promise and Pitfalls of Using Imprecise School Accountability Measures." (The article is available online through J-Stor, not to be confused with JSTARS, but that is configured university by university.) The tease, from the abstract: "[W]e describe the statistical properties of school test scores, which are less reliable than is commonly recognized, and explore the implications for school incentives. Many accountability systems that appear reasonable at first glance perform in perverse ways when test score measures are imprecise." What's at the heart of the imprecision? Good ol' small sample effects. (A quick check at Number 2 Pencil reveals a number of other difficulties with testing; if I've missed coverage of small sample effects there, please advise.) Thus, small schools are more likely to turn up as "underperforming" on the basis of a drop in their test scores, or to go from "underperforming" to "excellent" in a year, because of the presence of a few low- or high- scorers in a small class of test-takers. The paper is also scornful of a California assessment of minority achievement: "California's rules are analogous to a system that makes every [c.q.] school flip a coin once for each [numerically significant] minority subgroup and then gives awards only to schools that get 'heads' on every [c.q.] flip." Moreover, the rules do not provide for the kinds of reallocations that achieve greater efficiencies, which would involve shifting students to more effective schools and closing down less effective schools.
I HAVE A FRIEND IN MINSK, WHO HAS A FRIEND IN PINSK. Kieran Healy reports a great deal of traffic apparently motivated by the quest for the instant term paper. The comments are worth reading ... in many peoples' experience, the downloaders give themselves away, sometimes turning in something they printed right off the net complete with the hyperlink footers, whilst others patch in coherent bits of text surrounded by semiliterate scribblings. The topic of the efficient, cheat-resistant term paper project has kept the listserver for teaching collegiate economics busy as well. Among the better ideas are the analysis of a current event (clip an article, evaluate it) or the staged assignment with outlines, first drafts, and the like prior to the submission of a final draft. There are even some incentive-compatible ways to turn late around (such as students who turn their drafts in early get a shot at a revision that people who turn them in at the last minute do not.)

UPDATE: Do not miss potential source of Company Mail Invisible Adjunct's comments here and here
RECOMMENDED READING. Right Wing News has a little list of weblogs that show promise (via Betsy's Page, which is one of the weblogs so identified.)

13.5.03

BUG, OR FEATURE? "'An individualistic culture, much more suspicious of government, favoring lower taxes, elevating private interests over public good and commonalities, is finally taking the reins,' [Minnesota State University at Moorhead political science professor Jim] Danielson said." (Source: a Regions of Mind speculation on Minnesota becoming a "red" state, via InstaPundit.) No discussion in the post of whether those "public good and commonalities" are in fact useful, or a due-process protection racket (more to come.) I recall something called a "certificate of public convenience and necessity" that inter alia precluded a Boston-Albany trucking company that merged with an Albany-New York City trucking company from hauling goods Boston-New York by way of Providence and New Haven.

Memo to political junkies: the colors flop with each election, if memory serves. The Republicans will be a proper Tory blue on the 2004 map, and the Democrats will be (draw your own inferences) red.
PIGOUVIAN TAXES? Your awning has too many words on it.
REPRESENTATION VERSUS RETENTION. Discriminating for equality leads to unequal retention and completion rates, report the SCSU Scholars. Coming next: more college preparatory courses for college credit.
MAIN LINE FINISHED. As of 10 pm (Central) on Tuesday evening, the State of Maine Northern is complete from the Everett furnace spur through Gloucester to Rockport. Power has not been run to the tracks yet but a few freight cars have been propelled by the GHA 0-5-0 to find the rough spots and kinks.

11.5.03

SUBDIVIDING THE VANGUARD? InstaPundit reports the Congress on Racial Equality sees a Greenpeace plot to keep the Third World primitive, meanwhile Dean's World reports a difference of opinion between recently arrived African immigrants and what has become of the old Civil Rights establishment.
LIVE, OR MEMOREX? Latest from Command Post on fate of Osama bin Laden.
STAKEHOLDERS STIFLE CURRICULUM. The Superintendent recently took a dig at the American Association of University Professors for objecting to universities treating faculty as stakeholders. Critical Mass has some observations on the stakes the holders are driving into the heart of the curriculum. Perhaps it is time to rethink the entire concept of stakeholders. Establish well-defined rules of ownership, for a start.
I'LL HUFF AND I'LL PUFF. Fraters Libertas finds an affordable, sustainable, straw house gone wrong.
LINE RELOCATION. The American Mind gives the new location of Boycott Hollywood.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Attention, students at premier four-year universities: There’s pressure building from below. If employers start to realize that your straight-A average is based on smoke and mirrors, while the A’s earned at community colleges [and at the mid-majors?] are legitimate, you’re in trouble." Rich Tucker (via Betsy's Page, where I also found this.)
THE FREE MARKET IN INSTITUTIONS? Henry Farrell has a thoughtful post on institutions, corruption, and power, which raises some of the ideas in play in the alternate principles of economics course D. C. Smith notes has not made the cut at Harvard. Visit those sites and read some of their works, then check back here late Monday or early Tuesday for a few more observations. There will be more time for thought-pieces once grades are posted.
NEW INSTAPUNDETTE? Odds 'n Ends is a recent startup. Read it, and read Betsy's Page, and contrast the points of view.

8.5.03

BEER AND CIRCUSES. What makes a college mascot unsuitable?
WELCOME visitors from Carnival of the Vanities #33. The artistic entry screen is a clever touch. Thanks, Common-Sense.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "There was more stuff looted from Roosevelt [by Clinton Administration staffers] than turned out to have been taken from the Baghdad museum." Milwaukee's Charlie Sykes, this morning.

5.5.03

BULLETIN ORDER. Several people who have been kind enough to link here have complained that the archives are not working properly. The Superintendent has determined that the archives are more likely to be fouled after a session of extended editing of existing posts. (There are several such edits, some of them substantive, below. Do have a look.) To reduce that problem, archives are turned off during editing sessions. If an editing session is in progress, readers will see the following:

FORM B, LINE NO. 9 Archives are unavailable while the main line is being worked on.

Stick around. More stuff will be forthcoming until the FORM B announcement is removed and the TAIL TRACK is repositioned.
THE PARABLES OF ECONOMICS. Professor Farrell, now operating under the banner of Gallowglas (he explains better than I can -- test site here) has some thoughtful responses to my shilling for economics.

First, an invitation to any reader from any other social science discipline: please provide me with fundamental parables for your field. (If you wish to argue that the field is too complex and subtle to be so treated, read and understand this and recall an aphorism attributed variously to P. Samuelson, D. McCloskey, or R. Solow: if you can't explain it to your mother-in-law, you don't understand it well enough.)

Now, to the game theory. Professor Farrell cites this paper as studying "certain aspects of social interaction that simply cannot be represented using conventional game theory." I beg to differ. It is an interesting paper, and check some of the names in the references, but modeling the evolution of this convention as a game has potential as a dissertation topic (or perhaps a Larry Samuelson student, or a Larry Kranich student -- two different approaches to evolutionary game theory within economics -- is working on a related problem.)

Turning to the topic of "restrictive equilibrium refinements" for the most part those are somewhat more advanced parables (not quite rocket science, where have you gone, Darius Gaskins?) but still pretty simple parables. Take "subgame perfection." Think about it this way. You're playing chess. You calculate some variations. Looks like a pretty good move except for one nasty case. Do you make the move and hope your opponent doesn't see the counter? Not if you expect to be paired up in the next round. Or take those "alternative equilibria." Please. Not if you expect to get it published. You don't leave $100 on the sidewalk and hope nobody notices. That's yet another simple parable: arbitrage profits do not go unexploited. If you write it with an unexploited arbitrage opportunity or a non-credible threat, and you don't see it, and the referee doesn't see it, and none of your readers see it, then perhaps it has gotten through as a non-science.

Where there might be an art form to game theoretic modelling is in recognizing when to disregard one of the parables. But there's a parable for that, too: sometimes, you don't pick up the blind with a hand full of trumps.
IMMIGRANT RIGHTS. Amitai Etzioni makes the case for different legal rights for immigrants and citizens, while Power Line questions a form of amnesty for college-age children of illegal migrants. (The latter topic inspired several letters to the editor in the Chicago Tribune.)
HIAWATHA CORRIDOR UPDATE. Hit and Run is unimpressed.
BAD WRITING DOES NOT GET READ. Peter Lurie advances the thesis, "Why the Web Will Win the Culture Wars for the Left: Deconstructing Hyperlinks." Why? "HTML, hyperlinks, frames, and meta-tags are the essential building blocks of the web. They combine to create a highly associative, endlessly referential and contingent environment that provides an expanse of information at the same time that it subverts any claim to authority, since another view is just a click away." Yes, but you have to phrase things somewhat more felicitously. "In the blogosphere, we can fact-check your a**" just doesn't scan in theorrhea. Kevin Barnhurst has his own disagreements.

Perhaps there's no reason for subsidized, not-peer reviewed outlets for critical theory. On the other hand, if you have several hours, you might want to read this. (Political Theory found many of the articles mentioned above.)
ARCH DELUXE. The information content of menus, as noted by Milt's File, which also recommends this smackdown of Noam Chomsky.
TAKE BACK OUR HISTORY. Pittsburgh Live is unimpressed with the exclusion of everything from public-school textbooks in the interest of greater inclusion. (Via Betsy's Page.)
HOME IS THE SAILOR. It's a little difficult to fix a toothache when you're sailing around alone. Good on ya.
THE PURITAN ROOTS ARE SHOWING:
The Dante's Inferno Test has sent you to the First Level of Hell - Limbo!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
LevelScore
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very Low
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Very High
Level 2 (Lustful)High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)High
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Very Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Low
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)High
Level 7 (Violent)Low
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Low
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Low

Take the Dante's Divine Comedy Inferno Test
NO, I DON'T GIVE PHYSICALS. Michael Jennings has some thoughts about dissertation-completion euphoria, motivated by Josh Marshall's announcement of completion. (And good on ya, Dr. Marshall.) What is more important is how quickly that "Dr." vanishes -- the level of insecurity in a department varies directly with the proportion of people who have to call attention to their Ph. D. (or more notoriously their Ed. D.) on their office name cards.
61-22640. Read a tribute to the Milwaukee Public Library. I, too, remember Billy the Bookworm and filling in the charge slips.
CHUTZPAH. Every so often, the American Association of University Professors attempts to recruit me. Here is an excerpt from the latest pitch: "Faculty governance, a central feature of higher education, can help institutions to make the right choices in this rapidly changing environment. Faculty who are firmly grounded in scholarly disciplines are the appropriate decision makers about standards for academic achievement, academic policies, qualifications of peers and candidates for academic positions, and procedures that affect teaching and research in the academy. But on far too many campuses, faculty governance is diluted by the imposition of managerial schemes and mandates. Instead of sharing in the governance of the institution, faculty are sometimes relegated to the status of 'stakeholders,' on equal footing with alumni, students, parents, vendors, and future employers." Only seems fitting ... isn't this "stakeholder" notion a central theme in environmental studies, environmental management, and business ethics? If the objective of business is a mere social construction, in which maximizing shareholder wealth is one of several conflicting goals, and shareholders merely holders of one kind of stake, what privilege does faculty governance enjoy?

4.5.03

THE DIMINUTION OF GENERAL EDUCATION. Among the things that they don't teach you about in graduate school, include "internal course reviews." Specifically, all general education courses are subject to review at five-year intervals, using a resubmission form that some subset of the General Education Committee ginned up and obtained approval from the Undergraduate Coordinating Council, apparently without obtaining any suggestions from the people who actually teach the courses. So it comes time to resubmit the introductory economics courses, and the first thing the committee, or the council, or Baghdad Bob, wants to know is,

1. Why do you feel that this course is appropriate for the general education program?

Talk about a disconnect from reality. In many cases, a general education course is a course that several members of the department teach. Therefore, the responder has to construct an aggregate of "feeling." And catch that panty-waisted, limp-wristed "appropriate." Why not just put the question directly: What content does this course offer that you are prepared to defend as something that anyone who wishes to be educated ought to know?" It has nothing to do with "feeling."

The second question, about a course's placement in a distributive studies area, says more about the lack of any core in the curriculum than it does about a course offering general education content, and avoids further Fisking accordingly.

Now, the first gem. Here are the general education goals this committee wants "addressed" (again, more panty-waisted, limp-wristed rhetoric):

a. communicate, using writing, speaking, listening; use quantitative and formal reason, use resources including technology.

Some of this is properly the function of K-12, and why the use of "technology" (I was tempted to put in "sunny days and an olive tree") is part of the core curriculum escapes me.

b. historical development of culture, significance of the arts, cultural traditions and philosophical ideas, methods

That's the extent of the review's interest in the core curriculum, people.

c. interrelatedness of disciplines.

That's the extent of the review's interest in recognizing that life poses challenges and students ought to think beyond disciplinary boundaries (which they properly oughtn't even be thinking about in their core courses, as they have yet to be accepted into a major.)

d. social responsibility and citizenship.

The full statement of this objective reads "Students develop social responsibility and preparation for citizenship through global awareness, environmental sensitivity, and an appreciation of cultural diversity," which is both a restrictive set of dimensions of social responsibility, and a loyalty oath. But we have yet to get to the real loyalty oaths. Those appear in the rather cumbersome fourth question:

4. Does this course attempt to incorporate a multicultural perspective in philosophy, content, methods, or people? Although a desired goal is to include multicultural perspectives and approaches in as many courses as possible, not all of the characteristics apply to all courses. Check those characteristics of multicultural education that apply to this course. For each characteristic checked, please provide at least one example specific to this course.

In other words, quotas: "[An] attempt should be made to achieve ethnic minority balance in knowledge presented by incorporating Black, Hispanic, and other ethnic minority experiences and promoting recognition of ethnic minority achievements." Or perhaps, the identity-politics crowd took over the committee that drafted this form.
How, then, does a course incorporate a multicultural perspective?

a. The course includes pedagogical strategies that (a) accommodate diverse teaching and learning styles, and (b) may incorporate class materials that consider diversity (e.g., race,ethnicity, culture, language, religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical disability) in (i) examples, (ii) assignments or (iii) examinations.)

There is nothing inherently cultural about different learning styles. There is nothing inherently diversifying in limiting diversity to the categories so named. What any of it has to do with Stuff You Really Ought to Know escapes me.

Try instead, b. The course includes an awareness and accommodation of a student audience which may include people of differing race, ethnicity, gender, language, social class, religion, sexual orientation, abilities and disabilities, political beliefs, etc.

Does that mean no President-Bush-as-coarse-fratboy memes in Art History?

Or, you can pick The course includes scholarship, theories, concepts, facts, contributions, and perspectives of people of differing race, ethnicity, gender, language, social class, religion, sexual orientation, abilities and disabilities, political beliefs, etc., that have been historically underrepresented in all educational arenas.

Oh, goody. Put the Labor Theory of Value in microeconomics, or a flat earth hypothesis in astronomy, or creation science in biology, and make a case for increasing its representation.

Now comes something totally strange: The course incorporates cultural democracy, paying attention to a plurality of voices in order to (a) understand human history and (b) express a cosmopolitanism in which different groups support one another and become more unified in achieving common goals and interests.

Huh?

On the other hand, there's always The course provides opportunities for seeing other cultures (especially those traditionally excluded) in non-traditional ways, such as (a) from the insider's point of view (e.g., an indigenous person's perspective on indigenous people) or (b) from a non-mainstream point of view (whatever is mainstream within the context of the course, e.g., American, white, patriarchal, or any combination of items), in contrast to (c) their own personal perspective.

I avoid posting another "huh??" only because it's useful for students to learn not to generalize from their own experiences. But the items listed strike me as idiosyncratic to some schools of thought in some sub-disciplines. The core curriculum, such as it is, ought not to be battleground for such things. It's almost as silly as teaching set theory as soon as kids learn how to count.

A similar complaint applies to the final item. The course promotes valuing diversity and equal opportunity for all people through understanding the contributions and perspectives of people of differing race, ethnicity, culture, language, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and physical abilities and disabilities.

OK, the loyalty oath is filled in. What comes next? Well, now, the person, or faculty committee submitting this application, has to deal with the next waste of resources, namely assessment, including rubrics, and course evaluation questionnaires (I have a post somewhere deep in the archives linking a study that used latent variable analysis to illustrate the phenomenon of better-performing students providing better evaluations, something tells me that even if I find that link and post it here, the course evaluations will not go away.)

Recapitulation: several faculty-hours spent putting the report together, another hour of my own time trashing it, no net improvement in the core curriculum from either the report or my post. Sigh.
QUOTE OF THE DAY. Michael Barone: "Soft America seeks to instill self-esteem. Hard America plays for keeps." (Via Betsy's Page.)
WHERE HAS BAGHDAD BOB GONE? During Saturday's press conference with the Australian Prime Minister, President Bush specifically mentioned that U.S. forces were looking for retired Iraqi information minister Mohammad Said Sahhaf, who is supposedly negotiating for safe passage to Egypt. (Isn't an agent for Saturday Night Live also looking to hire this guy?)
POLITICAL BUSINESS CYCLES, rather than some Democratic or Republican magic, may be at work. (Via Asymmetrical Information.)
SOUND ECONOMICS. Jane Galt makes a peace offering to her critics. The opportunity remains, however, to offer a few observations on the methods of economics. Consider, first, a Semi-Daily Journal item attempting to link Robert Barro to a quote, "Isn't there an existence theorem proving that there is a second best argument for any policy?" The problem of second best presents a tempting, but not justified, refuge for sloppy policy-wonkery. Put simply, the argument runs this way: if not all resources are being allocated efficiently, a partial-equilibrium policy intervention that addresses the inefficiency in one market does not imply a more efficient allocation of resources generally. The temptation policy-wonk types sometimes fall victim to is to respond to a criticism of inefficiencies remaining under their policy with an appeal to a second-best argument, which is dangerous, because as Whinston et. al note, "the conceptual distinction between first-best and second-best problems is not sharp," to which I would add, the ability of a policy wonk to identify an inefficiency that contracting agents hadn't already identified and attempted to rectify is likely limited. General equilibrium thinking has its uses.

That's also true of game theory. Professor Farrell is less than impressed: "Game theory - don't start me on game theory. A notorious little result called 'the folk theorem' means that pretty well everything goes in the infinitely iterated games that are needed to model moderately complex social interactions - the best that economists and game theoretic social scientists can do is to show that whatever particular constellation of strategies that they're interested in is an equilibrium, happily ignoring the fact that there are umpteen billion other possible equilibria out there which are equally plausible from a game theoretical point of view."

It's not that ambiguous. The first statements of the Folk Theorem appear circa 1959 -- scroll down. At the risk of oversimplifying a bit, the folk theorem gives any equilibrium with average payoffs to each player that exceed the iterated Nash equilibrium as a perfect equilibrium with sufficiently patient players (see Theory of Industrial Organization 268 for a more precise, if full of linear algebra, presentation.) Sounds to me like a result that would be of great use in understanding the evolution of cooperation, including but not limited to social norms and governments. The onus is on the researcher to think carefully about the objectives of the agents and how they interact. It is bad form to set up problems in such a way as to force the results. So much for "anything goes."

There are other reasons for people in different disciplines to talk with each other. Another Farrell Blog post, referenced here, addresses some of the same manifestations of repeated contract, hierarchy, and concentration that Bennett Harrison noted nearly ten years ago. Alas, the state of understanding in economics hasn't progressed much since then. There has to be a better way of thinking about the evolution of concentration than as the equilibrium of a Markov process.
BOOSTING THOSE STUDENT CREDIT-HOURS PER FACULTY MEMBER. Invisible Adjunct discovers a U. Mass. professor who is getting some extra help from unpaid undergraduate teaching assistants. Invisible's characterization: exploitation. Quite, if not exactly sweated labor. Some years ago, Martin Anderson pointed out the scam in selling a university education on the strength of the famous professors, then using graduate students to deliver the education. What's next?
TESTABLE PROPOSITION? If you are not getting paid, you are not being socially responsible. Evaluate.
SEPARATING EQUILIBRIUM. Of what use is mandatory diversity training that reinforces existing prejudices? (No, I am not making this up. Apparently some of the people involved in setting it up are sufficiently unchurched that "preaching to the choir" loses all meaning.)

UPDATE: Mandatory includes having an administrative hold placed on your records for not attending all re-education sessions. Dees ukase ees not walid in Moskva.
NO ARTICULATION IN MINNESOTA. Consider a state facing budgetary hard times that's contemplating a restructuring of its state colleges and universities. Are there any benefits to, say, farming out the introductory courses to the junior colleges? The SCSU Scholars are unimpressed: "Some community and technical colleges are generating those credits for $1000 less.

"But are they the same courses? Do we really want our students going for a B.A. degree to go to the community colleges for all their lower division coursework? We do not want people arguing that a course is a course is a course
."

Perhaps you don't want to make the case that a course is a course. You then dissipate the cost savings in separating the courses from the courses. Consider the Illinois Articulation Initiative (no, it has nothing to do with multiple engines on one locomotive.) Here's one source of information for a student planning to start at a junior college and complete a degree elsewhere in Illinois. The Internet Fairy does not maintain this site, I can assure you. A junior college student ought to be aware of this sort of information (it varies from college to college) and of the requirements at the four-year program. For Northern Illinois University, read this, which differs from University of Illinois's transfer policies. By the time a student has made the case for transfering a course, the course content might have transferred out of working memory.

UPDATE: The SCSU Scholars have described Minnesota's version of articulation, which goes by the name of MN Transfer (to avoid a trademark infringement?).



The Minnesota arrangement appears to be more ambitious, as it applies to private colleges as well as the state institutions. (Or is that sign on the door serendipitous?)

There appears to be a flaw, however, in the concept. Does it really matter that people who attend state-supported colleges remain in the state and become taxpayers? Isn't there something called comparative advantage, in which a state might export higher education and import other goods and services?

3.5.03

TOUCHDOWN. The Soyuz ferry has landed safely in Kazakhstan with its cargo of three cosmonauts. (Did the U.S. astronauts have their passports with them? Their original itinerary figured on a return to the U.S.)
FOURTH TURNING ALERT. In the political sphere, "we are at a time where a change of political axis is needed and will likely occur within the next few years. Currently only half of the population of America identifies with either the Democrats or the Republicans (about 25% for each), the rest of the population considers itself mostly disenfranchised. And the disenfranchisement of the majority of the public is growing. There are many important political issues of the day which the public is vitally concerned with but which the parties do not care much about," contends Robin Goodfellow (via Instapundit, comments here, here, and here, rejoinder here.) Power Line finds another realignment in progress in sports: according to Sally Jenkins, "Vince Lombardi was a grown-up. Paul "Bear" Bryant was a grown-up. Woody Hayes was sometimes psychotic, but a grown-up."
CREEPING CONCENTRATION? Oligopoly Watch is watching. (Via Newmark's Door.)
TAX INCIDENCE. One way to reduce the tax burden on middle-and-lower-income U. S. taxpayers is to cut Social Security taxes, notes Robert B. Reich. What is also noteworthy is that a court intellectual for the Democratic Party recognizes that the "employer's share" of Social Security "contributions" really counts against the marginal-value product of the employee, and (drumroll) there is no such thing as a Social Security trust fund (/drumroll).