Friday, 25 November 2016

Burning karma on HEA

Email exchange I've just initiated... 😀


I will not be applying for an HEA fellowship.

I am sorry to say that everything I have heard about HEA qualifications leads me to think that they are a wholesale waste of time, foisted on us by government mandate, and developed by an organization that is much better at lobbying than it is at providing useful teacher training.

When I interviewed for this position, I specifically asked about whether I would have to apply for an HEA qualification. I was told that at my level it would not be necessary. That was one reason I took the job. So, just as an advance warning: any attempts to force people to take this qualification will, at least to me, be very, very unwelcome. 

With best wishes,

David Hugh-Jones
Senior Lecturer
School of Economics

On 25 November 2016 at 12:16, XXX <XXX> wrote:
Dear colleague,

You may be aware that the university is seeking to encourage all staff to apply for an HEA Fellowship, if they do not already hold one. I am keen for all academic staff to take this opportunity to further advance their professional development, and for SSF to take the lead in this initiative.

If you would like to take this opportunity to apply, please contact XXX in order to be added to a Blackboard site, on which there is a list of staff who already hold HEA Fellowship and have agreed to provide references for academic staff. Please note that your referee should be someone who is familiar with your teaching/research methods. Any further helpful information will also be added to this site in future, such as HEA writing retreat dates. Please note that XXX is the main contact for all HEA Fellowship enquiries; she will pass more detailed enquiries on to me if necessary.

I have attached the list of voluntary referees as it stands, as well as a flowchart explaining the HEA monitoring process and application payment details.

If you could kindly inform XXX if, and when, you will be applying for HEA Fellowship – and to what level of Fellowship – it would be much appreciated for monitoring purposes.
Additionally, if you already hold an HEA Fellowship and believe you have been incorrectly contacted, please let XXX know your current level of Fellowship for our records.

Thank you, good luck and have a great weekend!

Best regards

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Is populism dumb? A follow up

My article on populism has just been republished on the UEA economics blog. This follow-up is inspired by Sascha Becker and Thiemo Fetzer’s interesting paper on UKIP support.

Their strategy is to look at places in the UK that received migration from Eastern Europe after 2003. They examine how vote share for UKIP grew in these places between 1999 and 2014, over 4 elections, compared to places which received less migration. (So, for stats nerds, this is a difference-in-difference analysis.)

The results show that indeed, UKIP support grew more in places which received many migrants from EU accession countries. That’s not too surprising. In particular the measure they use is the proportion of migrants 2001-2011, divided by the number of EU migrants in 2001 – so it is a relative measure which weights migration more if it starts from a low base. This might reconcile the conflicting perspectives on Brexit – i.e. was it areas with few migrants or many that voted Leave? – perhaps the answer is, areas with a sudden increase from a low base.

What shocked me, though, were the economic effects on these areas that they estimate. Now, be aware that the statistics here are not gold standard in terms of causality: they can’t prove for sure that the following changes happened because of EU migration. Nevertheless, these things did happen where there was more EU migration:
  •  Lower wages, especially for the low paid, though the effect is not large
  • More job seeker allowance and incapacity benefits claimants (NB: this won’t be solely driven by migrants claiming, but also by native claims – in other words, displacement of natives out of the job market)
  •  Higher house prices and more people renting privately

I don’t want to lean too much on a single unpublished study. Nevertheless, this is not what I expected. The consensus position one hears from economists is that migration does little to harm the wages of natives. This paper doesn't fit that picture. If it is right, UKIP support and maybe Brexit voting may be driven less by nationalism, more by economic self-interest.

By the way there is a cautionary tale – yet another – here about over-reliance on “expertise”. The UK government at the time vastly underestimated the level of migration:

A central reason for opening the borders where [sic.] the thriving UK economy and a set of estimates from a Home Office commissioned study, predicting that “only around 5,000-13,000 Eastern Europeans [were] to arrive to the United Kingdom per year” …
The reliance on historical data, which naturally constrains the analysis to periods with relatively high migration cost... and resulting low migration elasticities, in addition to the possible impact of general equilibrium effects (Germany and most other countries restricting free movement for the whole discretionary period) may have contributed to the discrepancy between the projections and actually realized migration flows.

Or, as Daniel Kahneman might say, analysts of migration live in a zero-validity environment....

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Thoughts on Trump: policy, geopolitics, ideology

These are short, sketchy and incomplete. I had to write some ideas down. Time will tell how far they are right.

  1. The media – which, yes, leans Democrat – focused on Trump's personality, which was indeed a massive minus. However, Trump won because of his protectionist and isolationist policies, despite his personality. We know little about these, partly because the media didn't report them very well, partly because many were made up on the fly and are not serious.
  2. But Trump will do what he says in some respects. He will protect existing industries; prevent immigration, increase deportations; and spend money on stimulus policies – which were the first point of his victory speech, not migration or the border wall. Stimulus policy is Keynesianism, but pursued too late, at a point in the cycle where it will be procyclical not countercyclical. Also, although the US could probably do with some public investment, the money is unlikely to be well spent: Republicans are less competent at public investment than Democrats. Expect a short-term boom, followed by the bills coming due. At that point, Trump may try to undermine the Federal Reserve and print money.
  3. So, expect further long-term decline in the US economy. The US may now have entered the cycle of populism that parts of Latin America went through in the last century.
  4. Also expect the legislature to continue its slide towards irrelevance. Trump is pushy and strong-willed; he will build on Bush II and Obama's rule by executive decree. Political systems always have a demand for political decisions; if one institution can't supply this demand, others will take its place.
  5. Trump's policies have more continuity with Obama than is obvious. Obama pivoted towards Asia (i.e. away from Europe) before being forced back by events. Trump continues this with his attitude to NATO. The pendulum has also been moving away from free trade for a while. Obama has deported many illegal immigrants and this will increase.
  1. The logic of the situation, post-Brexit, is likely to push Britain, the US and Russia closer and away from Germany. France might also slip away from Germany if Le Pen is indeed elected. This is more with respect to trade than in terms of conflict, but the border between these is not solid. This situation is pretty sad, given that Germany is a liberal democracy and Russia is run by Putin who poisons UK citizens on the streets of London, but I think strong forces are pushing for it. If France does fall to Le Pen, then we can probably predict the end of the Euro in the next ten years. Geopolitically Europe might then look as if the twentieth century hadn't happened.
  2. I cannot imagine Russia will not try to play more in Eastern Europe. Trump has made the terrible mistake here of publicly announcing his weakness of will. It is hard to see Europe stepping into the breach to defend, say, Latvia.
  3. I'm not clear what will happen with respect to China. Will the US try to split Russia from China, Nixon's ploy in reverse? Or could Trump become a wholly owned local subsidiary of the Authoritarian International, à la Berlusconi?
  1. What's Left? Not much. The radical Left has a discredited economic programme, plus cultural politics that electorates hate (internationalism, multiculturalism....)The moderate Left has an economic programme that made people richer, but increased inequality and left bitter losers...  plus the same cultural politics that electorates hate, except also it is tied to their disliked internationalist economic programme. (Key campaign moment: the leaked Clinton speech which supposedly revealed her desire for open borders.)
  2. This is another step in the divorce between liberalism and democracy. For example, Trump has promised to torture terror suspects. I see no reason to dismiss this or to assume he will be prevented by the US's checks and balances: Bush wasn't. It's time to admit that democratic tyranny is a real possibility. It may even be that liberals – in the straightforward sense of people committed to human rights and civil freedoms – will need to organize and struggle politically against some democratic regimes. Maybe Tim Garton Ash can lead the first Liberal International.
  3. Democracy itself is more threatened by the elites who are disgusted by Trump and horrified by Brexit than it is by Trump's authoritarian tendencies. If Trump's policies fail, then expect a further round of middle-class disillusionment with democracy.
  4. Democracy has already become somewhat hollowed out. We are far from the days in the 1970s when Lord Hailsham could warn of "elective tyranny". Now, government decisions can be challenged in court, even in areas of "high politics" such as Brexit; much policy, including monetary policy, is delegated to unelected bureaucrats; at local level in the UK, non-democratic bodies get a lot done. Actually existing resistance to democracy, driven by people who have money to lose, currently focuses on these rival centres of power. But institutions need coordination by the political centre. If that centre loses authority, different institutions start serving their own constituencies rather than the national interest. In newer, marginal democracies, expect anti-democrats to push for non-democratic political institutions and take steps away from democracy. In established democracies, expect continued institutional sclerosis.

Some Adorno quotes

Not wishing to add to the general alarm, but does any of this ring a bell?
The agitators spend a large part of their time in speaking either about themselves or about their audiences.They present themselves as lone wolves, as healthy, sound American citizens with robust instincts, as unselfish and indefatigable; and they incessantly divulge real or fictitious intimacies about their lives and those of their families. Moreover, they appear to take a warm human interest in the small daily worries of their listeners, whom they depict as poor but honest, common-sense but non-intellectual, native Christians....

They identify themselves with their listeners and lay particular emphasis upon being simultaneously both modest little men and leaders of great calibre....

Another favorite scheme of personalization is to dwell upon petty financial needs and to beg for small amounts of money....

All these demagogues substitute means for ends. They prate about “this great movement,” about their organization, about a general American revival they hope to bring about, but they very rarely say anything about what such a movement is supposed to lead to, what the organization is good for or what the mysterious revival is intended positively to achieve....

Scandal stories, mostly fictitious, particularly of sexual excesses and atrocities are constantly told; the indignation at filth and cruelty is but a very thin, purposely transparent rationalization of the pleasure these stories convey to the listener....

Conditions prevailing in our society tend to transform neurosis and even mild lunacy into a commodity which the afflicted can easily sell, once he has discovered that many others have an affinity for his own illness.The fascist agitator is usually a masterly salesman of his own psychological defects....
Hitler was liked, not in spite of his cheap antics, but just because of them, because of his false tones and his clowning. They are observed as such, and appreciated.
Adorno, Anti-Semitism and Fascist Propaganda

Monday, 31 October 2016

Linkage: something for everyone

Two papers from the latest AER. On the left: 1996 US welfare reform seriously damaged the income of the disabled young people that it affected.
I estimate the effects of removing low-income youth with disabilities from Supple- mental Security Income (SSI) on the level and variance of their earnings and income in adulthood. Using a regression discontinuity design based on a 1996 policy change, I find that removed SSI youth earn on average $4,000 annually, an increase of just $2,600 relative to those who remain on SSI, and the volatility of their income quadru- ples. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that up to one-quarter of the value of SSI to recipients comes from its income stabilization effects and the other three-quarters from its income supplementation effects.
On the right: choice-based reforms made NHS hospitals more effective.

The impacts of choice in public services are controversial. We exploit a reform in the English National Health Service to assess the impact of relaxing constraints on patient choice. We estimate a demand model that explicitly captures the referral constraints imposed on patients to evaluate whether removing constraints on choice increased the demand elasticity faced by hospitals. Using data for an important surgical procedure we find that patients became more responsive to clinical quality. The increased demand responsiveness led to a modest reduction in mortality by re-allocating patients and a substantial increase in patient welfare. The elasticity of demand faced by hospitals increased substantially post-reform, giving hospitals stronger incentives to improve their quality of care. Finally, we find evidence that hospitals responded to the enhanced incentives by improving quality. The results suggests greater choice can enhance quality.
Papers are ungated working paper versions. 

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Epistocracy is a stupid idea for clever people

Unsurprisingly some people in the UK and America are disenchanted with democracy and are casting about for alternatives. One is epistocracy, meaning rule of those who understand. Specifically, the idea is to restrict the vote to qualified voters – say, by having some kind of exam. Jason Brennan argues for this trenchantly in his book Against Democracy. Chapter 3 is called “Ignorant, Irrational, Misinformed Nationalists”. He is refreshingly relaxed about offending the Left Behind.

Yes, voters are ignorant and misinformed. No, the solution is not restricting the franchise.

The cause of voter ignorance was well put by Joseph Schumpeter in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. The private citizen “is a member of an unworkable committee, the committee of the whole nation, and this is why he expends less disciplined effort on mastering a political problem than he expends on a game of bridge.” In other words, my vote will never decide an election, so I do not spend much time thinking about how to vote.

Notice that this has nothing to do with my brain power. In fact, Schumpeter uses a highly qualified professional as an example:
We need only compare a lawyer’s attitude to his brief and the same lawyer’s attitude to the statements of political fact presented in his newspaper in order to see what is the matter. In the one case the lawyer has qualified for appreciating the relevance of his facts by years of purposeful labor done under the definite stimulus of interest in his professional competence…. In the other case, he has not taken the trouble to qualify; he does not care to absorb the information or to apply to it the canons of criticism he knows so well how to handle; and he is impatient of long or complicated argument.
The problem of political ignorance is not lack of ability. It is lack of incentives. I have a PhD in political science. For my PhD, I mastered the intricacies of some obscure Californian referendums. At the same time, I certainly had no idea about, say, the size of the UK defence budget. Why the difference? Because a thesis on  referendums would get me a job. Knowing the size of the defence budget would help me decide if it should be increased or decreased. This was of no use to me.

OK, but surely smart, informed people know more about politics than stupid uninformed people. If we could aggregate all those smart people’s opinions, wouldn’t we be better off than if we also added all the noise from the uninformed people?

No. The problem is not one of information aggregation, but of information production. The plans for Obamacare were not lying around in different people’s heads, waiting to be put together. They were created by a few people’s deliberate effort, working twelve hour days. This kind of work is subject to what computer programmers call the mythical man-month. The full-time effort of a few cannot be replaced by the leisure hour attention of a million, no matter how clever the million.

In one part of Brennan’s argument he appeals to economists’ expertise on immigration:
...the consensus among published economic work on immigration is that the restrictions on labor mobility introduced by mostly closed borders is the single most inefficient thing governments do. They estimate, on average, that the deadweight loss of these restrictions is around 100 percent of world product—that is, that we should be at around $140 trillion in world product, but we are only at $70 trillion, because of immigration restrictions…*
It is extremely plausible that at the margin, less restricted migration could make a lot of poor people richer. The idea that we could double world GDP by getting rid of all these restrictions is bullshit. Nobody has a clue what would happen if we did that. The models economists use do not include political instability or cultural change. We have no idea how to predict or value those outcomes. In France, after recent terror attacks by people who entered Europe posing as refugees, there is an ongoing state of emergency and a fascist party riding high in the polls. What is the cost of that? I make this point not to argue against open borders, but against delusions of expertise.

Those who consider themselves informed are often narrow-minded zealots, or nerds who can’t see beyond their assumptions. Restricing the vote to them would leave politics just as dumb, but more extreme.

Brennan thinks democracy is like passengers voting on how to fly the plane. But epistocracy is like restricting that vote to First Class passengers. A better solution is to have a pilot. You might then want a way to get rid of a pilot who is drunk, suicidal or has joined Islamic State.

People are not politically very bright. You and me included. They are generally able, however, to watch someone debate for half an hour and decide what they think of him. This requires common sense and judgment, not expertise. Democracy should require no more.

Today’s problems with democracy are as much about the supply side as the demand side. Stop asking “why do people support Trump?” Ask, how did the political system let this demagogue emerge? The answer seems to be that party elites lost control of the Republican nomination process. Democracy works best when highly-motivated professionals are held to account by those they serve. We should work on that angle. Direct democratic nonsense, stuff like reading Tweets out in Prime Minister’s Questions, is a distraction. So is epistocracy.

* in "How Smart is Democracy? You Can't Answer that Question a Priori", Critical Review 26:1-2, 33-58.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Vertical ambition: I don't get it

So a guy from Saatchi* wrote that women lacked "vertical ambition" and then was sacked after a fiery storm of comment. And... I find this strange.

Let me give you an analogy. Suppose, hypothetically, I were to claim that, in my society, women spend more time and effort on their appearance than men. (I haven't even checked if this is true. I am – hypothetically – just trusting my gut.)

What might cause this difference? Is it human nature? Are women born with an innate love of finery and display? Well, someone might claim that, but it hardly seems necessary. Men seem to care about women's appearance a lot. So, if women care about finding romantic partners, they may experience strong social pressure to look good. I don't say it is fair. I just say it would explain why women might spend time on their appearance. The other part of the explanation would be that men experience less such pressure, maybe because women care about men's appearance less.

Back to ambition. For the next bit I must reveal that during my life, I have been single, gone on dates, and frequented dating websites. Shame!

My strong impression is that in the choice of romantic partners, women care a lot about men's careers. I would say that this is not confined to any one section of the population. It is true among materialists who love yachts and expensive cars. But it is also true, in a less blatant and earnings-focused way, among Guardian readers, and those who like long walks with dogs. So, at least, it seems to me. I would even go further and say that, if I had no job or a minimum wage job, I would have very great difficulty finding a romantic partner; I would basically be, in the eyes of the opposite sex, nothing and noone.

If this is true, or if men think it is true, and if they also care about finding romantic partners, it seems that men have much stronger incentives to be rich, successful and powerful than women. In other words, "vertical ambition". Again, another part of the explanation has to be that men care less about women's careers and success. That is also my impression, gleaned from e.g. the high number of females, on dating websites, whose day job is, say, "food blogger".
Material aspirations of American college students, Crippins et al (1991).
This was all the data I could find in a hurry. Make of it what you will.

So I am not sure why the Saatchi dude got pilloried for this. To get to men having more ambition, you don't need a story about male brains or genes or mammoth hunting in the Pleistocene. You just need people caring about the opinions of the opposite sex, and responding in the obvious way.

An alternative story is that men and women have exactly the same levels of ambition, but that women are constantly being stymied by the all-male hiring committee: "oh, we don't want a woman in the firm – let's have more guys!" Personally I have never observed this, or anything like it, and it seems almost the reverse of what actually happens, but I admit I live in the virtuous and PC world of academia.

Here, then, is my beef. I don't hate feminism or want to join the manosphere or think that sexism doesn't exist or whatever, but I have a beef and here it is.

On the one hand, I have a society that tells me: you'd better get to the top; you'd better be successful; or you're fucked. So I work hard. And then I get successful, or more successful than I was, or at least, mediocre. And then I and other guys are told: ah, you benefited from sexism!

I don't know, this just seems like bullshit.

* Advertising agency founded by Charles Saatchi, the famous art collector and wife-beater.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Linkage, collected

Anxiety and depression are symptoms, not diseases.

So, I needed an example of problematic libertarian paternalism for my lecture. Is this an example of "reframing choice"?

Writing about Tibet and being censored in China:

"Some content ignores the great accomplishments that several decades of reform and opening up have had in Tibet, and instead overly indulges in the nostalgia for an imagined old Tibet; the content shows faulty values and departs from correct political principles, failing to assume the societal responsibility that a contemporary author has and also the political responsibility in constructing an advanced culture."
Because I refused to admit these “mistakes”, one year after the book had been published and banned, I was fired, my apartment was confiscated, my insurance was cancelled, and I wasn’t allowed to apply for a passport to go abroad; from this moment I started the difficult career as an independent writer.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Post about our research on The World Weekly

I wrote a little more about our research on The World Weekly. Well, not specifically our research but the more general point that geneticists are getting better at predicting outcomes, and what this means for inequality.

Monday, 29 August 2016

Paper out

Our paper on genetic assortative mating in the UK is out in Intelligence . Here's the abstract:
We examined whether assortative mating for educational attainment (like marries like) can be detected in the genomes of ~1600 UK spouse pairs of European descent. Assortative mating on heritable traits like educational attainment increases the genetic variance and heritability of the trait in the population, which may increase social inequalities. We test for genetic assortative mating in the UK on educational attainment, a phenotype that is indicative of socio-economic status and has shown substantial levels of assortative mating. We use genome-wide allelic effect sizes from a large genome-wide association study on educational attainment (N ~ 300 k) to create polygenic scores that are predictive of educational attainment in our independent sample (r = 0.23, p b 2 × 1016). The polygenic scores significantly predict partners' educational outcome (r = 0.14, p = 4 × 108 and r = 0.19, p = 2 × 1014, for prediction from males to females and vice versa, respectively), and are themselves significantly correlated between spouses (r = 0.11, p = 7 × 106). Our findings provide molecular genetic evidence for genetic assortative mating on education in the UK.

So, why's this interesting? Here's a brief summary of the social science of individual behaviour for the past 20 years or so:
SOCIAL SCIENTIST: There are correlations between parents' and children's behaviour! This proves that upbringing and social structure matter.
GENETICISTS: Dude! It's probably just shared genes.
So, lots of things seem to be handed down from parents to children: wealth and income. Moral attitudes. Which political party you support. But then, twin studies would show that monozygotic twins (identical, all the same DNA) were much more similar than dizygotic twins (non-identical, 50% same DNA) on these outcomes. Or, adoption studies would show children resembling their birth parents, not their adoptive parents. Often, all the resemblance among family members would appear to be accounted for by genetics. Biology rules. After all, your DNA is the ultimate exogenous variable: fixed at conception, it affects you throughout life, but your life doesn't change it.

Or is it?

Take a step back: at individual level, DNA is a fixture of biology (though its effects can certainly interact with the social environment). But how you got your DNA is a function of how Mum met Dad. And that is a social, even a political variable. For an extreme example: many US states banned interracial marriage until the 60s. For a less extreme example, think of"the great sorting out" – the idea that people increasingly live alongside others who are similar to them.

This paper is a first step to thinking about how a social variable – who marries whom – affects the distribution of DNA in society. Social scientists have known for a long time that "like marries like": here we show that, as you'd expect, this means that like DNA marries like DNA, using the Polygenic Score for education that I wrote about last time. (Here's another paper on the same topic for the US.)

There's lots more to do on this topic. As my co-author Abdel Abdellaoui's PhD thesis put it:

behaviour ⇄ genetics.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

A picture from our forthcoming article in Intelligence

Here is a single bar chart from our forthcoming article in the journal Intelligence. (I've edited it a bit to have nicer colours.)

The bar charts represent individuals' Polygenic Risk Score for educational attainment. That is, each individual gets a score predicting when they will finish education. Don't worry about the details of how this is done: the point is that it combines the effects of many different genes, and it is purely derived from DNA. Give me a cheek swab with your DNA, or your child's and I will calculate your score. Bars 1 to 5 represent the bottom 20% of our sample on this score, then the next 20% and so on up to the top 20% on the right. The bar colours show the proportion of each group that went to university, got A levels (i.e. the age 18 exam in the UK), got GCSEs (the age 16 exam) or left without any qualifications.

This isn't actually what our article is about – our article is on assortative mating between spouses on this score.

The picture just shows that as of 2016, you can predict someone's education fairly well from their DNA. For example, only 1 in 5 of the bottom 20% group go to university, while about half of the top 20% do so.

It used to be that, while genes could significantly predict social outcomes, the amount of variation they actually explained was very small – it was statistically significant but substantively irrelevant. As you can see, that is not really true any longer, and it is likely to get less true as more large-N studies produce more accurate predictions.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Question for Bremainers

It is hard to imagine that the Front National will not make political capital from last night's horrible events.

Serious, open-ended question: how do you react to the idea that the EU might end up partly run by populists and/or neo-fascists? 

Monday, 4 July 2016

I Was Right

Just by the way, I still would like a large Foresight Cookie for this post of mine in 2011: Immigration: ordure approaching fan. Thank you.