General Musings

1. One of the issues I get worked up about – concept of addiction. This post is about the ineffectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous. Link

2. This is a presentation disputing that the “Hot hand” in basketball is a fallacy. I often think to myself why are sports analytics so untouched by simple game theory. The results of this paper seem totally obvious to me.

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3. Ross Douthat wrote an article about the conservative surrender in regards to gay marriage. Link

This article brings up some issues I want to expound on.

It has always confused me why libertarians/conservatives have this kind of unquestioning attitude regarding the freedom of people to offend. For example, people like Gavin McInnes or Adam Carolla often rail on and on against political correctness, support Paula Deen, support Duck Dynasty, or support Chick-Fil-A’s right to be against gay marriage.

First of all, oftentimes freedoms are mutually exclusive. My freedom to yell at you precludes your freedom to walk around undisturbed. Libertarians often mention things like the Non-aggression principle and that as long as you don’t use aggression or violence then it is okay. But the problem as I see it is that there are many, many ways that people can be harmed besides being punched in the face or having their radio stolen.

The funny thing is is that both Adam Carolla and Gavin McInnes also go on and on about how Los Angeles is a shitty place to live and sometimes yearn for yesteryear when people were more civilized and kids didn’t talk back. But, how did yesteryear come about when youngsters respected their elders? Well, I would guess the norms were different. Inherently, when norms were different means that when someone violated the norms of the times then there were costs or consequences involved. That is a big part in producing those norms; the disapproval or other costs of not conforming to the norm. In the 1960s if a 15 year old said, “Fuck you!” to the local hardware store owner there would be a much bigger difference in social consequences versus today. What I am saying is that to get back to the 1960s would require a kind of political correctness about manners or behavior.

In a way it is no different than today when a majority of people want to live in a world where gay people aren’t called faggots. We want to live in a world where it’s not funny to joke about slavery (Paula Deen). To get to this world means that when people violate norms, then there are big social consequences. Duck Dynasty’s freedom to expound on slavery comes at the cost of other people’s freedoms as well. I never hear talk about the benefits of political correctness. Yes, it curtails people’s individual freedoms, but it also can give others freedom as well. We just care less today on the margin of respecting your elders, but more about things such as racial equality and gender equality.

I also think about transaction costs and bargaining. We can’t negotiate these things because there are too many people involved and other indirect factors. It would be hard to get 50,000 people that were offended by Duck Dynasty to each pay $1 to negotiate with Duck Dynasty to change their behavior. The lowest cost solution for all these multiple norms violations is to just impose social consequences on all violators; judgment, sneering, and financial penalties.

I will say that this kind of thing is a grey area and it’s hard to calculate exactly how much people are offended versus how much joy the person doing the offending is getting or how much that freedom is worth. But, just like in the 1960s, freedom of speech didn’t mean that you could really say whatever you wanted to, whenever without some kind of social consequence. A 10 year old in 1960 couldn’t go up to a mother and tell her that she was fat and that her children were ugly and dumb without facing severe consequences even if that consequence is limiting his freedom.

4. This Freakonomics podcast on learning a second language was pretty interesting. Link

Some snippets from transcript with my thoughts afterwards…

DUBNER: Saiz is from Barcelona and he’s an economist at MIT, where he teaches urban planning. On today’s show we’re asking about the return on investm…ent of learning a foreign language and, wouldn’t you know it, Saiz has calculated exactly that. He tracked about 9,000 college graduates to see how a foreign language affected their wages. He was surprised by what he found.SAIZ: Yeah, unfortunately, and I have to say, of course, because I try to speak three, I was pretty disappointed, and actually we found a very, very small return. What we did find is that after controlling for a host of characteristics, and using, a lot of experimental research designs that are basically trying to compare people who are identical for everything except for the second language, we did tend to find a premium in the labor market of about 2 percent of wages. In other words, if you speak a second language, you can expect to earn, on average, and that’s across many, many different people, on average you can be expected to earn about 2 percent higher wages. To contextualize this, think about your income or your wage being about $30,000, then you would expect to earn about $600 more per year….

SAIZ: I can tell you that there’s research in other countries. Actually the findings in the United States do contrast with what other people following the same methodology found in Turkey, in Russia and in Israel. In these three countries, actually speaking English, which would be the second language, was associated with a substantial return of around 10 to 20 percent. So it’s really I think English speaking countries where that effect is relatively low. And again I think the explanation is very clear. English is the lingua franca….DUBNER: This is Bryan Caplan, at George Mason University.

CAPLAN: All of this study seems to totally fail to teach people how to fluently speak foreign languages. So we can actually see in the data is that under 1 percent of Americans have learned to speak a foreign language very well in school. And this is very well according to them. And since people tend to exaggerate how good they are at things. If under 1 percent claim that they learned to speak a foreign language very well in school, then God knows how many actually did.

I want to highlight two points of the podcast that Dubner doesn’t make explicit. He doesn’t talk about the actual return from learning a second language by the public school system. Because under 1 percent of Americans actually have learned a foreign language from school and then even those 1 percent only get a 2% increase in wages, the ROI is extremely bad. The ROI would be something like under .02%.

Another thing to take away that Dubner doesn’t say out loud is that it’s pretty rational from a cost-benefit analysis why Americans don’t speak other languages or know about other cultures. On the other hand it is very profitable for non-Americans to learn English and about American culture. I guess you can use this idea to defend American ignorance.