Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Some links

Poverty-reduction matters globally. Chalk one up for redistribution, a.k.a. "socialism." It's not just about money
American public opinion, then and now.
Happy old people. It beats the alternative.

Lazy Academics

Hamermesh has a post out on Freakonomics saying that he's paying the price of other professors' laziness at his own institution. My colleagues and I at VMI are paying the price for the laziness of professors at other institutions. VMI credibly fights grade inflation; many schools don't. It affects teaching evaluations.

Student in my class: Why are tests here at VMI so hard?
Me: What do you mean?
Student: My friend at (an institution about an hour north of VMI) took (a class in the business school) and her tests were 25 easy multiple choice questions and that's it. They get an easy A while we have to work for B's and C'sWhy is that?
Me: There are probably two reasons: First, there is a lot of grade inflation at other schools, which is very closely tied to whether professors get tenure. Second, the teachers there probably lazy - the cheapest way to get better teaching evaluations is to make the course easy and thus give higher grades.
Student: I wish VMI did that, too.
Me: No, you don't. In fact, you came to VMI knowing that it was a tougher place, and you made that choice anyway. If you want easy A's there are plenty of schools where you can get easy A's. Why didn't you go there instead?
Other Student: Because I don't want to get a shitty job.

There you go. Even students nearing final exams can get why grade inflation is bad, you just have to work them through the logic. Too bad incentives are so skewed the other direction.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Political Question I don't quite Understand

Here. If the tax increase on folks making $250k + is based on AGI, and those folks are really making $315k on average, why wouldn't Democratic politicians phrase it that way when they stump for it? Wouldn't that make it less unappealing?


The Republicans hate ObamaCare so much that they want to expand it. I guess that makes sense, since ObamaCare was really the Republicans' idea... in 1993.

Sometimes the biggest factor is the least important

This WSJ editorial tries to make the case that we shouldn't care about distracted driving in a strange way. The author argues that even though distracted driving fatalities are up, overall fatalities are down. But then he seems to argue that  makes is that growth in fatal motorcycle accidents lead all categories for increases in road deaths and that many of these deaths involve inexperienced cyclists.

So what? I don't say that to seem insensitive, but someone who chooses to ride on a motorcycle, and eventually gets in a wreck is often only hurting (sometimes fatally) himself. When motorcycle fights car, car wins. In economic jargon, there is seldom an externality involved with this sort of accident. The driver of the motorcycle knows riding is riskier, and chooses to do so. On the other hand, when someone is dicking around on his cell phone (let's say while driving a Yukon or comparable grocery-and-kiddie wagon SUV) he puts innocent, responsible drivers at risk. Policy makers should only intervene if an argument can be made that there is a social cost (or externality) to certain types of behavior. I don't see that argument in the case of motorcycles.

So, motorcycle accidents are accounting for the biggest increase in driving fatalities, but there is no theoretical reason that policymakers to give a rat's ass. My guess is that Mr. White and his boss at WSJ, Mr. Murdoch are simply reveling in finding some research that promotes their supposedly pro-liberty (of a certain sort) agenda, and they would probably claim that no policy action is warranted in the case of Motorcycle OR distracted driver traffic deaths. If that's the case, why not just repeal all drunk-driving laws? It seems highly unlikely that Mr. White would support this proposal. Given that the impairment from cell use rivals that of intoxication, that seems to be the better place for policy.