prestige trumps quality in faculty hiring? not so fast

This article (Clauset, Arbesman, and Larremore. “Systematic inequality and hierarchy in faculty hiring networks”) has been making the rounds lately. The article uses a network method to extract prestige rankings from the set of graduate degrees and faculty hires. It shows “that faculty hiring follows a common and steeply hierarchical structure that reflects profound social inequality.”

Blog posts, tweets, and stories about the article (e.g., this one from the Monkey Cage) have mostly picked up on the idea that the fact that prestigious departments generally hire Ph.D.s from other prestigious departments must mean that “academia is not a meritocracy.” While I would certainly not claim that academia is a meritocracy, I don’t think the Clauset et al. paper demonstrates that.

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all persons are fictional

In the wake of the Hobby Lobby decisions, there have been renewed discussions of corporate personhood. The argument is relatively simple: the 19th century Supreme Court made a mistake when it created the legal fiction that corporations are persons. I don’t want to get into that argument here. Instead, I want to make a slightly different argument: all persons are fictions.

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no austrians near fiscal cliffs

The commonplace saying “there are no atheists in foxholes” — while probably technically false — seems apt to describe the so-called “fiscal cliff” situation the United States government finds itself in. Deficit hawks and Austrian economics purists ought to be happy, as the automatic cuts produce the first significant deficit reduction in 12 years and reduce government involvement in the economy more substantially than essentially anything since Bretton Woods.

But, with important exceptions, most commentators agree that the fiscal cliff is likely to lead to major economic problems because of the withdrawal of substantial government money from key economic functions and of tax rates returned to those that existed during the last economic boom. Let’s recognize this for what it is: an admission that government’s involvement in the economy actually does create jobs, Mitt Romney notwithstanding.

snarky qotd about voting and economics

The prize goes to Peter T:

[Steven] Levitt has millions of brain cells. The activity of any one of them cannot possibly matter. So he doesn’t bother thinking.

It’s all part of a(nother) post by Andrew Gelman on why it might be rational to vote if you care about the outcome because there’s a nonzero chance of your vote being decisive, estimated at roughly 1 in 10 million depending on what state you live in. Since the chance of being killed by a car on your way to voting is probably much higher than that, I think the rationality calculus is still way off, since there are very few people who would prefer dying in a car accident to failing to cast the decisive vote. But hey, I’ve objected to Gelman’s approach to this for a while.

FWIW, I voted Wednesday. Early. In a swing state.

nerd alert: krugman and the primacy of a concept

Paul Krugman writes:

It wasn’t until the Arabs invented Arabic numerals that the liquidity trap became a possibility.

Very erudite, very intellectual, very historically astute. But is it true? The liquidity trap describes a point at which a central bank’s infusion of cash into an economy fails to stimulate the economy because returns are already so low that people prefer to hoard cash. (Feel free to elaborate on, or correct, my amateurish description.) I’m very happy with the idea that the concept of zero has to predate economic behavior that worries about (sub)zero returns, but I would have thought economists would think it’s the actual existence of zero, not the concept of it, that drives the liquidity trap.

is pink slime a moral panic?

Today’s Wall Street Journal carries a story about defenders of so-called “pink slime,” the mixture of beef scraps disinfected with ammonia that has been the subject of major derision since Jamie Oliver “exposed” it on his show. Important elements of the story:

  • “lean finely-textured beef” (the technical identifier) has been used for a long time
  • the stuff is much less fatty than regular ground beef
  • it’s actually beef, not a filler, starch, etc., as some other meat extenders are.

So, is pink slime getting a bad rap just because of the name it’s been given? Is anybody really surprised that industrial food producers use every scrap of meat they can? Is anybody upset that higher-risk bits of meat are disinfected before entering the food supply? What unintended consequences will result from the moral panic surrounding the stuff?

I take for granted here that we are talking about an industrial food supply, and we can have a separate discussion about the virtues of organic, free range, etc., meat. But should consumers of industrial meat be surprised or upset at the presence and use of this product?

wsj: 3x the income share is remarkable similarity

Today’s Wall Street Journal carries an opinion piece by Allan Meltzer based on a 2006 study by Roine and Waldenstrom. The piece reprints a graph showing the income share of the top 1% in several countries between 1900 and 2000. (The graph is quite interesting in itself.) Meltzer’s interpretation: “…the share of income for the top 1% in these seven countries generally follows the same trend line.” The pullout quote: “The remarkable similarity in income distribution across countries over the past century means domestic policy has less effect than many believe on who gets what.” The remainder of the piece is pretty much the same stuff we always see in the WSJ: additional taxes on the rich will reduce investment and therefore jobs and income for the other 99%, therefore it’s really in the best interests of the whole country for the obscenely rich to be left alone to become even richer.

I’m not interested in refuting the obviously self-serving argument about the “job creators,” but the interpretation of the graph is important. First, while there is an overall trend line, dispersion around it is substantial. Even during the time period of the least dispersion (the postwar era, about 1945-1975), the difference between the share of income held by the top 1% in the top country (the Netherlands) and the bottom (Sweden) is about 5 percentage points, which is hardly negligible when it’s percentage of national income! Second, since about 1980 the dispersion between countries is quite marked, with the US share climbing from about 8% to about 17% (reading from the graph) between 1980 and 2000 and large increases in the UK and Canada but much less increases in France, Sweden, Australia, and the Netherlands. Thus by 2000 the difference between the share claimed by the top 1% in Sweden (5%) and the US (17%) is a factor of greater than three! The conclusion, then, ought to be just the opposite of Meltzer’s: even in the era of globalization and the decline of the state, nation-to-nation differences persist and even increase. Thus this is evidence that national policy can make a difference in income inequality.