Quotulatiousness

October 23, 2017

QotD: Cargo cult economics

Filed under: Economics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Once upon a time, government officials decided it would help them keep their jobs if they could claim they had expanded the middle class. Unfortunately, none of them really understood economics or even the historical factors that led to the emergence of the middle class in the first place. But they did know two things: middle class people tended to own their own homes, and they sent their kids to college.

So in true cargo cult fashion, they decided to increase the middle class by promoting these markers of being middle class. They threw the Federal government strongly behind promoting home ownership and college education. A large part of this effort entailed offering easy debt financing for housing and education. Because the whole point was to add poorer people to the middle class, there was a strong push to strip away traditional underwriting criteria for these loans (e.g., down payments, credit history, actual income to pay debt, etc.)

We know what happened in the housing market. The government promoted home ownership with easy loans, and made these loans a favorite investment by giving them a preferential treatment in the capital requirements for banks. And then the bubble burst, with the government taking the blame for the bubble. Just kidding, the government blamed private lenders for their lax underwriting standards, conveniently forgetting that every President since Reagan had encouraged such laxity (they called it something else, like “giving access to the poor”, but it means the same thing).

Warren Meyer, “Cargo Cult Social Engineering”, Coyote Blog, 2012-11-28.

October 21, 2017

Surprise, surprise – exclusive universities draw almost exclusively from rich regions

Filed under: Britain, Education — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the Guardian, Sally Weale, Richard Adams and Helena Bengtsson disclose the shocking news that Oxford and Cambridge select very few students from outside the two wealthiest tiers of society or from outside London and the southeast:

Oxford and Cambridge universities have gone backwards on the socio-economic diversity of their student bodies, with more than four in five students coming from the most privileged groups, a Guardian analysis has found.

Data released to the MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, under the Freedom of Information Act shows that 82% of offers from Oxford and 81% from Cambridge went to students from the top two socio-economic groups in 2015, up from 79% at both universities five years earlier.

Lammy, who has campaigned for greater ethnic and socio-economic diversity at Oxbridge, said he was appalled that the universities were moving backwards on socio-economic background measurements. “This data clearly shows that a privileged background is still the key to getting through the Oxbridge admissions process,” he said.

The data shows huge regional disparities in offers, with some parts of England and Wales failing to secure a single place for years while students in London and the south-east received almost half of all offers.

Despite the two universities’ extensive efforts to increase the diversity of their intake, new research shows there are still swaths of the country with low rates of application and disproportionately fewer offers.

Students from benighted, uncivilized places like Middlesbrough are rarely able to gain admission:

Middlesbrough, where 101 students applied to Oxbridge, secured just 11 places in five years.

Carolyn Yule, the director of A-levels at Middlesbrough College, said that not one of her Oxbridge applicants had been successful in her three years in the job. “One of the students we did a lot of work with, he wanted to read mathematics and he was absolutely fantastic,” she said. “He got an interview and could not have done any more, but he didn’t get in. We didn’t really get a lot of feedback from them. We don’t even feel we know why our students don’t get in.”

However, it’s important to find out how many students applied to make sense of the numbers accepted:

There are 38 colleges at Oxford, 31 at Cambridge (close enough anyway). Given that not everyone with that sort of level of academic achievement actually tries to enter Oxbridge then what do we think should be the offer rate to these Black Britons? It’s most certainly not 4 offers per college per year, is it? Or 6, or whatever 400 divided by 70 is.

Given the small numbers the stats are going to be weird anyway, but what is the number of total offers made by all colleges, related to the total number of people who get 3 A grades? Vriance from that would probably be a good starting point for us.

Lammy does however make a good point:

    With this degree of disproportionately against black students, it is time to ask the question of whether there is systematic bias.

I’m certainly willing to believe there is. I am not deluded enough to think that Britain is perfect, nor its education system. But I would probably start with the thought that the bias is in the system that leads to the 400 not with the selection within it.

H/T to Colby Cosh for the link.

October 12, 2017

Britain’s Old Boy Network – from “the Establishment” to “the Embarrassment”

Filed under: Britain, Government, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the media rounds supporting his new book, The Square and the Tower: Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power, Niall Ferguson discusses the decline and fall of the oldest power network in Britain:

It used to be that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was the United Cronydom of Great Poshhouse and Northern Grousemoor. The only network that mattered was the Old Boy Network. The OBN was formed by men who were the old boys of a tiny elite of boarding schools known as “public schools” because they were closed to the public. Most boys at those schools were scions of the aristocracy or the landed gentry: future barons and baronets.

Even if thick to the point of educational sub-normality, these young gentlemen would attend either Oxford or Cambridge. They would then be given one of the following jobs:

1. Estate manager and courtier (eldest son).

2. Foreign Office or Treasury mandarin (brightest son).

3. Cabinet minister (most extrovert son).

4. Governor of [insert Caribbean island] (youngest son).

5. BBC director-general (Left-wing son).

This is of course a caricature. In reality, there were all kinds of sub-networks — clusters — within the elite network that ran Britain. Sometimes, a brilliant group of talented young men would come together to achieve great things. There was the “Kindergarten” formed by Alfred Milner, which tried (and failed) to transform South Africa into a second Canada or Australia. There were the Apostles — the Cambridge Conversazione, the most exclusive intellectual club of all time — to which the economist John Maynard Keynes belonged.

However, with increasing frequency after 1945, the OBN’s achievements were less than brilliant. Suez. Wilson. Heath. Double-digit inflation. The three-day week. From being the winners of glittering prizes, the OBN degenerated in the eyes of a previously deferential public into the upper-class twits of the year.

In the Sixties the journalists Henry Fairlie and Anthony Sampson popularised the disdainful name that the historian A.J.P. Taylor had given the British elite: “The Establishment”. By the Seventies the Establishment were more like The Embarrassment — objects of sitcom ridicule. By the Eighties they had been almost entirely driven from the corridors of power. Nothing better illustrated this than the Thatcher governments: not only was the prime minister a woman from provincial Lincolnshire (albeit one with an Oxford degree); there were enough ministers in her Cabinet with Jewish backgrounds to inspire off-colour jokes about “Old Estonians”.

October 7, 2017

QotD: Madman or academic on the loose?

Filed under: Health, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Chesterton, somewhere, memorably notes that the madman is not without reason. Verily, in the mental department, he has lost everything except his reason. I remember this every time I find myself arguing with an atheist: that it is best not to. The mere idea of “pure reason” enabled a certain Immanuel Kant to anticipate post-modernity, set the stage for some bizarre descendants, and reset all our metaphysical dials to an atheist default position. Not that he was intending this. He was only taking a step beyond Hume. “Fully autonomous reason,” shall we call it, is a powerfully destructive force. Perfection of the intellect is no more possible, down here on earth, than a life entirely without sin. The belief that we can elevate ourselves by the synaptic bootstraps of our wee tiny brains, has much for which to answer.

In Parkdale for instance: a district of this city renowned for its accumulation of “outpatients,” on and off their “meds.” They also illustrate Chesterton’s aphorism. Often they are reasoning, aloud; and seldom on my walks do I detect any logical errors. From the facts or premisses that they have supposed, their (often angry) mutterings to themselves flow quite naturally. I have even overheard some impressive hair-splitting; and have often thought that, with a little anger management, they could be candidates for tenure — at Ryerson, if not the U of T.

David Warren, “Not all there”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-12-15.

September 21, 2017

QotD: Teaching

Filed under: Education, Quotations, Randomness — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

At every level, our society has been idiotized, in fulfilment of the democratic ideal. As I am reminded by each and every remark, from all candidates in televised political debates, we are now living in Flatworld.

God created, and continues to create, men and women of extraordinary diversity, in natural interests, native motor abilities, and the potential for what the Greeks called “genius.” That is to say, not simply brains, but what can be done with the brain you were provided.

I have noticed from my own teaching experience that, the smaller the class, the harder on a teacher. This is because the needs of individuals can better be discerned. The hardest teaching is under the old, indeed mediaeval, tutoring system: the one-to-one that used to be standard in places like Oxford and Cambridge, which continued to distinguish them from the drive-in, red-brick, fake universities. For at that “tutorial” level, student and teacher are both fully exposed, each to the strengths and limitations of another, non-abstract, human mind. It becomes impossible to “go through the motions.”

And it is like this, ultimately, in the tutoring of Christ Our Saviour. Every one of His students is a difficult case; the smart ones usually the most difficult. And so, likewise, with parent and child; with master and apprentice. It is so, by analogy, wherever men try to teach one another. The sermons and parables, the public lectures, are only the beginning of it. Then comes a process of discovery: “Which part of this do you not understand?”

Compare: the ideal of the “lowest common denominator,” appropriate perhaps for the management of pigs and cattle, on a large industrial farm. But evil when applied to human beings.

David Warren, “Democracy versus God”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-11-10.

September 4, 2017

The mental health crisis on campus

Filed under: Education, Health, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In Spiked, Naomi Firsht shares the concerns of Jonathan Haidt about the rise of mental health issues at US universities:

The heightened vulnerability of college students has had a chilling effect on discussion in the academic world, and Haidt sees this in his day-to-day experience on campus. “There is a rapidly spreading feeling that we are all walking on eggshells, both students and faculty. That we are now accountable, not for what we say, but for how anyone who hears it might take it. And if you have to speak, thinking about the worst reading that anyone could put on your words, that means you cannot be provocative, you cannot take risks, that means you will play it safe when you speak… This is what I’m seeing in my classes when topics related to race or gender come up – which we used to be able to talk about 10 years ago, but now it’s painful and there’s a lot of silence.”

This is disastrous for academic life, as Haidt points out: “A university cannot function if people will not put their ideas forth, will not contest ideas that they think are wrong, will not stand up for ideas that they think are right.”
He is keen to emphasise that this is not a right-left issue. “Several people on the left are noticing that college students are less effective politically as activists, as progressives, when they have this morality and this ethos with such heavy concept creep.”

Haidt believes there is a mental-health crisis on campus: “I have never seen such rapid increase in indicators of anxiety and depression as we have seen in the past few years”, he says. But his suggested approach is unlikely to find favour with student communities fond of Safe Spaces and therapeutic puppy-petting. “If you think about it as a mental-health crisis”, he explains, “then you might be tempted to say: we need more help, more counselling, more protection for those who are suffering from mental illness. But if you look at it that way you will miss the broader pattern, which is that for 20 to 30 years now, Americans have been systematically undermining the development of resilience or toughness of their children.” Referencing the work of Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-range Kids, he concludes: “We have made our children too safe to succeed.”

In his forthcoming book Misguided Minds: How Three Bad Ideas Are Leading Young People, Universities, and Democracies Toward Failure, Haidt claims that certain ideas are impairing students’ chances of success. Those ideas being: your feelings are always right; what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; and the world is divided into good people and bad people. “If we can teach those three ideas to college students”, he says, “we cannot guarantee they will fail, but we will minimise their odds at success”.

So how can we resolve the problem of vulnerability among young Americans? Haidt says part of the solution must begin in childhood and will require parents to give their children daily periods of “unsupervised time”. “We have to accept the fact that in that unsupervised time there will be name-calling, conflict and exclusion. And while it’s painful for parents to accept this, in the long-run it will give them children that are not suffering from such high rates of anxiety and depression.”

August 27, 2017

Stop Subsidizing Sports!

Filed under: Economics, Education, Government, Sports, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 25 Aug 2017

Let’s talk about “sports”—that thing where we gather around to watch a muscular stranger put a regulation-size ball in a specific location.

Why are taxpayers forced to pony up cash for athletic ventures that don’t benefit them? Franchise owners routinely extort massive stadium subsidies through threats of relocation and fake promises of economic revitalization. Universities jack up student rates to subsidize athletic programs that should be self-sustaining. And the Olympics is economically devastating to every municipality foolish enough to get suckered by one of the oldest scams around.

Mostly Weekly host Andrew Heaton explores the sports phenomenon and why we should quit throwing other people’s money at it.

Links, past episodes, and more at https://reason.com/reasontv/2017/08/25/stop-subsidizing-sports

Script by Sarah Siskind with writing assistant from Andrew Heaton and David Fried.
Edited by Austin Bragg and Siskind.
Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg.
Theme Song: Frozen by Surfer Blood.

August 24, 2017

Andrew Scheer’s latest missed opportunity to defend freedom of speech

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Chris Selley is disappointed in federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s dropping the ball on defending the right to free speech in Canada:

Last week, headlines proclaimed that the University of Toronto had “barred” from campus a right-wing “group” calling itself the Canadian Nationalist Party, which was planning to hold a rally there despite objections from activists. Asked if this violated the hypothetical Conservative policy, Team Scheer said no. “I respect the right for universities to determine which outside groups they give a platform to,” he told the National Post.

Quite right. In fact, according to U of T, the “party” — which may or may not be one fellow with a website — hadn’t even contacted the university about it. If some random Facebook user announces “Rager at Selley’s Saturday Night,” I have no obligation to stock the bar.

But in the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville, a Scheer spokesperson went further. Scheer would work with universities “to prevent loopholes for events that risk violating Canadian law,” CBC reported. “(Scheer) is committed to working with the universities to ensure that any policy he brings forward does not become a platform for hate speech,” said the spokesperson.

Sorry, no. That’s hopeless. Any event can be “a platform for hate speech,” if an organizer or attendee decides to make it one. The key, within reason, is that they be given the chance. Team Scheer is all but explicitly endorsing prior restraint: Person X or Group Y might be too dangerous, too likely to utter “hate speech,” for a university to vouchsafe.

As soon as you endorse that idea over a universal defence of free speech up to some reasonable definable threshold — the Criminal Code, say — you’re emboldening precisely the censors Scheer claims to want to take on. Are BDS and Israeli Apartheid Week prima facie hate speech? Is the idea of a superior white race or male gender prima facie hate speech? People disagree; universities are supposed to be free venues for those disagreements.

Meanwhile, Scheer seems to have missed an opportunity to weigh in on a whopper of a free speech dereliction at Ryerson University last week. Citing an inability “to provide the necessary level of public safety for the event to go forward, particularly given the recent events in Charlottesville,” the Toronto university cancelled a discussion concerning … er … “The Stifling of Free Speech on University Campuses.” Activists had vowed to shut down the event; they managed it without even having to close their laptops. Ryerson hasn’t formally been a university for long. A politician who (for better or worse) thinks campus free speech is his business might reasonably propose it shouldn’t be going forward.

August 10, 2017

“[M]ental illness is to grad students as black lung was to Victorian coal miners”

Filed under: Education — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

Drew Brown on the less-salubrious aspects of getting your PhD:

There is no higher intellectual pursuit than a PhD. It offers the promise of living a ‘life of the mind’: freedom of thought and inquiry; creative control over your work; middle-class comfort without middle-class drudgery; and above all, a meaningful life in the pursuit of knowledge.

This is the ‘noble lie’ of the Academy. None of this really exists in any meaningful way for most of the people pursuing it, but it is propagated—unwittingly or otherwise—in a manner that maintains what is effectively a pyramid scheme of hyperexploited labour designed to siphon money from children.

Everyone with eyes to see and ears to hear has known for some time that there is a human cost to this arrangement, but researchers have finally given empirical grounding to our ugly suspicions. According to a study in Research Policy from earlier this year, rates of psychological distress and symptoms of mental illness are twice as likely to occur among PhD students as the rest of the “highly educated general population.” Specifically, one in two PhD students surveyed experienced symptoms of psychological distress, while one in three is at heightened risk for developing psychiatric illnesses, especially anxiety and/or depression. According to the study’s abstract “Organizational policies were significantly associated with the prevalence of mental health problems.”

The findings shouldn’t be shocking for anyone who has spent any amount of time among PhD students. Horror stories abound. In reflecting on the full-immersion acid bath called graduate school, one friend of mine quipped that “mental illness is to grad students as black lung was to Victorian coal miners.” Another who left our PhD program two years in told me that he “didn’t realize how miserable school made him until [he] was out,” and I thought about that sentence almost every day until I quit the program myself earlier this year.

H/T to Colby Cosh for the link.

August 9, 2017

QotD: University “studies” programs

Filed under: Education, Europe, History, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

As someone who got partway through grad school, I am only a sort of half-layman when it comes to modern European history. On demand I can present an official document that testifies, by implication, that I have spent a certain amount of time in seminars talking about Himmler’s agronomy education or discussing why totalitarian regimes are always sexually puritanical. Even before it was ruined for me by formal training, I was a history buff. So I can sort of reconstruct the process whereby I know what Auschwitz is. But, by the same token, I am less able to know how anyone else comes by the knowledge.

It seems some part of our system for producing intellectually responsible grownups has failed […] That failure is probably not to be found in the extensive education in social work. A degree in social work amounts to a degree in helping people: assuming it is not totally idiotic for our institutions of higher learning to be generating such paper, there must be mastery of some technical arcana involved. I do not know that this would involve instruction in the details of the Holocaust. A nursing education doesn’t; an engineering education doesn’t.

It is, rather, that “social justice and peace studies” business that captures my eye. Wouldn’t the matter, the essential grounding of an education in social justice and peace just be … history? (With particular attention to the topic of concentration camps?) Wouldn’t expertise of this kind require digestion of a mass of information about the flux of war, diplomacy, economies, and ideas? Something Studies items were on the menu already when I began my undergraduate education, and I majored in history partly because, in my innocence, I couldn’t see how you would study anything else about human affairs without that foundation.

But we all know the secret of Something Studies well enough now: it is a way of avoiding the rigour and complexity of a history education, and going straight to the business of striking political stances. It is History For Left-Wing Dummies. And when you see such a degree on someone’s CV, you can be quite sure you have found one.

Colby Cosh, “Some part of our system for producing intellectually responsible adults has failed Alex Johnstone”, National Post, 2015-09-24.

June 21, 2017

College Students ‘Think Freedom is Not a Big Deal’

Published on 20 Jun 2017

Sociologist Frank Fruedi and Reason’s Nick Gillespie discuss the decline of free speech on campus and his new book, What Happened to the University: a Sociological Exploration of its Infantilisation.
———-
“For the first time, a growing number of young people actually think freedom isn’t a big deal,” says sociologist Frank Furedi, who’s an emeritus professor at the University of Kent and author of the new book, What Happened to the University: a sociological exploration of its infantilisation.

The university was once a place where students valued free speech and risk taking, but today “a very illiberal ethos has become institutionalized,” says Furedi. “In many respects, it’s easier to speak about controversial subjects outside the university…It’s a historic role reversal.”

Furedi sat down with Reason‘s Nick Gillespie to talk about the roots of this intellectual shift on campus — and how to fix it.

Edited by Mark McDaniel. Cameras by Jim Epstein and Kevin Alexander. Music by Bensound.

June 1, 2017

Words & Numbers: Is Your College Degree Worthless?

Filed under: Economics, Education — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 31 May 2017

A lot of people assume that any degree increases your income over the course of your life, but it actually seriously depends on what major you choose and what career you go into. This week on Words & Numbers, Antony Davies​ and James R. Harrigan​ breakdown the numbers on what your college degree is actually worth.

May 29, 2017

QotD: Western intellectuals’ anti-Western bias

Filed under: Education, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Much of the West’s intelligentsia is persistently in love with anything anti-Western (and especially anti-American), an infatuation that has given a great deal of aid and comfort to tyrants and terrorists in the post-9/11 world. Besides these obvious political consequences, the phenomenon Julian Benda famously called le trahison des clercs has laid waste to large swathes of the soft sciences through ideologies like deconstructionism, cultural relativism, and postmodernism.

I believe, but cannot prove, that le trahison des clercs is not a natural development of Western thought but a creation of deliberate propaganda, directly traceable to the successes of Nazi and Stalinist attempts to manipulate the climate of opinion in the early and mid-20th century. Consequently I believe that one of the most difficult and necessary tasks before us in the next half century will be to banish the influence of totalitarian nihilism from science in particular and our culture in general.

Eric S. Raymond, “What Do You Believe That You Cannot Prove?”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-01-06.

May 24, 2017

“I don’t know if Lou would be cracking up about this or crying because it’s just too stupid”

Filed under: Cancon, Education, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Reactions to the University of Guelph student association’s characterizing Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” as transphobic:

Friends of the late Lou Reed responded on Saturday with disbelief to a claim by a Canadian student body that the singer’s 1972 hit Walk on the Wild Side contains transphobic lyrics.

“I don’t know if Lou would be cracking up about this or crying because it’s just too stupid,” the singer’s longtime producer, Hal Willner, told the Guardian. “The song was a love song to all the people he knew and to New York City by a man who supported the community and the city his whole life.”

The Guelph Central Student Association, a group at the University of Guelph in Ontario, apologised for including the song on a playlist at a campus event.

In an apology published to Facebook and subsequently removed, the group said: “We now know the lyrics to this song are hurtful to our friends in the trans community and we’d like to unreservedly apologize for this error in judgement.”

The lyrics in question focus on Reed’s friends from Andy Warhol’s Factory, among them transgender “superstars” Holly Woodlawn and Candy Darling.

“Holly came from Miami, FLA,” Reed sings. “Hitchhiked her way across the USA/ Plucked her eyebrows on the way/ Shaved her legs and then he was a she/ She says, ‘Hey, babe, take a walk on the wild side.’”

Uploaded on 19 Nov 2009

***Rest in Peace to Holly [Woodlawn] who came from Miami, F-L-A, and who Lou first mentions in the opening lines of the song***

**Congratulations (a long overdue one at that) to the Newest Member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Lou Reed!**

*So sad to hear about Lou’s passing today at the age of 71. There will never be another one like you Lou. A true original and pioneer. Like The Who said in their Facebook status: “Walk On the Peaceful Side”*

“Walk On The Wild Side” from Lou Reed’s 1972 second solo album, Transformer, (after leaving the Velvet Underground) did not chart in the top 10 on Billboard. Some of the songs that year that did chart in the top 10 were: Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally),” Mac Davis “Don’t Get Hooked On Me,” and Wayne Newton “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast.” I’d say “Walk On The Wild Side” is just as memorable, if not more so than those ones. My favorite part of the song is probably the saxophone solo at the end 3:44.

To say the least, this song was highly controversial when it came out considering it is about transvestites who come to NYC for prostitution. They would say to their potential customers, “Take a walk on the wild side!” Lou Reed once said about the song: “I always thought it would be fun to introduce people to characters they maybe hadn’t met before, or hadn’t wanted to meet.” What an amazing storyteller and lyrical genius Lou Reed was.

Try to find another song from this time period where the artist talks so openly about subjects such as oral sex, transvestites, and drug use, there weren’t very many others. He was writing about things in a style that, frankly, almost no other artist at that time would even consider writing or singing about. Lou was well before his time, and has inspired countless artists from all genres. What a classic, classic song! Still no song like it to this day. What artist other than Lou could get away with lyrics like: “And the colored girls go doo do doo, doo do doo, doo do doo”?! The lyrics are way too clever and fun not to post in the description so here they are:

Lyrics:

Holly came from Miami, F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’
He said, ‘Hey honey, take a walk on the wild side’

Candy came from out on the island
In the backroom she was everybody’s darlin’
But she never lost her head
Even when she was giving head
She says, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’
He said, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’

And the colored girls go
Doo do doo, doo do doo, doo do doo

Little Joe never once gave it away
Everybody had to pay and pay
A hustle here and a hustle there
New York City’s the place where they said
‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’
I said, ‘Hey Joe, take a walk on the wild side’

Sugar plum fairy came and hit the streets
Lookin’ for soul food and a place to eat
Went to the Apollo, you should’ve seen ’em go go go
They said, ‘Hey sugar, take a walk on the wild side’
I said, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’
Alright, huh

Jackie is just speeding away
Thought she was James Dean for a day
Then I guess she had to crash
Valium would have helped that bash
She said, ‘Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side’
I said, ‘Hey honey, take a walk on the wild side’

And the colored girls say
Doo do doo, doo do doo, doo do doo

May 23, 2017

QotD: The dangers of career “dualization”

Filed under: Business, Economics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

This concept [of dualization] applies much more broadly than just drugs and colleges. I sometimes compare my own career path, medicine, to that of my friends in computer programming. Medicine is very clearly dual – of the millions of pre-med students, some become doctors and at that moment have an almost-guaranteed good career, others can’t make it to that MD and have no relevant whatsoever in the industry. Computer science is very clearly non-dual; if you’re a crappy programmer, you’ll get a crappy job at a crappy company; if you’re a slightly better programmer, you’ll get a slightly better job at a slightly better company; if you’re a great programmer, you’ll get a great job at a great company (ideally). There’s no single bottleneck in computer programming where if you pass you’re set for life but if you fail you might as well find some other career path.

My first instinct is to think of non-dualized fields as healthy and dualized fields as messed up, for a couple of reasons.

First, in the dualized fields, you’re putting in a lot more risk. Sometimes this risk is handled well. For example, in medicine, most pre-med students don’t make it to doctor, but the bottleneck is early – acceptance to medical school. That means they fail fast and can start making alternate career plans. All they’ve lost is whatever time they put into taking pre-med classes in college. In Britain and Ireland, the system’s even better – you apply to med school right out of high school, so if you don’t get in you’ve got your whole college career to pivot to a focus on English or Engineering or whatever. But other fields handle this risk less well. For example, as I understand Law, you go to law school, and if all goes well a big firm offers to hire you around the time you graduate. If no big firm offers to hire you, your options are more limited. Problem is, you’ve sunk three years of your life and a lot of debt into learning that you’re not wanted. So the cost of dualization is littering the streets with the corpses of people who invested a lot of their resources into trying for the higher tier but never made it.

Second, dualized fields offer an inherent opportunity for oppression. We all know the stories of the adjunct professors shuttling between two or three colleges and barely making it on food stamps despite being very intelligent people who ought to be making it into high-paying industries. Likewise, medical residents can be worked 80 hour weeks, and I’ve heard that beginning lawyers have it little better. Because your entire career is concentrated on the hope of making it into the higher-tier, and the idea of not making it into the higher tier is too horrible to contemplate, and your superiors control whether you will make it into the higher tier or not, you will do whatever the heck your superiors say. A computer programmer who was asked to work 80 hour weeks could just say “thanks but no thanks” and find another company with saner policies.

(except in startups, but those bear a lot of the hallmarks of a dualized field with binary outcomes, including the promise of massive wealth for success)

Third, dualized fields are a lot more likely to become politicized. The limited high-tier positions are seen as spoils to be distributed, in contrast to the non-dual fields where good jobs are seen as opportunities to attract the most useful and skilled people.

Scott Alexander, “Non-Dual Awareness”, Slate Star Codex, 2015-07-28.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress