Monday, December 3, 2012

Where is the Honor is Fake Degrees and Honorifics?

In life, it is necessary to have tough, yet realistic goals.  It is necessary to have winners and losers, and to reward and honor those who achieve greatness.  It is just as necessary to shun those who lie, cheat, and steal to pretend that they have achieved greatness, and pretend to deserve honor.

The dishonorable attempt to buy or lie about honor is of course an old game, but that doesn't make it any more appetizing.  Even more troubling is the attempt by policy makers to water down and cheapen degrees, using the wrong-headed logic that "If a degree helps people earn more money, then we should make it very easy for everyone to have a degree, so everyone will earn more money!"

But, of course this will not work.  A degree is valued and respected BECAUSE it is hard.  And, where degrees are easy to get, they are not valued at all.  There is a movement in the US to open “early college programs”.  From one of the proponent's websites:

Since 2002, the partner organizations of the Early College High School Initiative have started or redesigned 240+ schools serving more than 75,000 students in 28 states and the District of Columbia. The schools are designed so that low-income youth, first-generation college goers, English language learners, students of color, and other young people underrepresented in higher education can simultaneously earn a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree or up to two years of credit toward a Bachelor’s degree—tuition free.

In short, the program is taking students from groups that often struggle to obtain a high school diploma by age 18, and are often underprepared for a college curriculum, and are awarding them both a high school diploma AND a two year college degree by age 18. 

While it is clear that there is an unacceptable education gap, and that preparing everyone in the world with more rigorous, thoughtful, and demanding education should perhaps be our highest priority… these programs appear to do the opposite. Attempting to “cram” two years of college into the existing high school curriculum of even the brightest students seems to be a destructive exercise.  These students would benefit from MORE years of serious study, not two fewer years and a piece of paper asserting a falsehood.  To attempt to do such “cramming” to the least prepared high school students is  misguided. Because a two year degree by definition is supposed to demonstrate two years of additional preparation after high school, these programs are likely to make two year degrees worthless for all, and put these at-risk students in jeopardy of being unable to complete a 4-year degree at a University. The well-meaning government officials might then decide that these students should be awarded a Masters Degree at age 18.  Instead, I would rather we pay these underprivileged kids to actually spend the extra two years studying to improve their skills-- but more importantly, to teach them to VALUE hard work in education, rather than fakery and credentialization.

Signaling and screening can work to communicate information, but only if one is careful to make sure that the signals and choices represent REAL information. In the end, the reward for a degree is proportionate to either how much valuable learning took place, or how difficult it was to obtain. So, if an online university tells you that they will award you a degree in only a year, or that you can get a Ph.D. by working only a few hours per week for a year or two… you should not expect people to place a large value on something that takes a small effort.  Let me say it clearly: A Ph.D. is the highest degree, designating you as an expert capable of doing cutting-edge research in a field.  This is NOT something that can or should be done on-line, even if the online college charges you a lot of money.  In fact, it sends the opposite signal to savvy employers.  I feel similarly about master's degrees.  I know that this is the 21st century, but Universities are collections of learned people and resources-- much of the learning happens outside the classroom, but within the "learning environment"-- especially at a high level-- you need to have daily face to face interactions with extremely smart people in order to learn complicated information.

In the US, Russia[1], and elsewhere, fake degrees have been around for a long time… so long that it is fairly easy to figure out if a degree is fake (or semi-fake), if an employer wants to.  Now China is having a problem with fake universities—both the American ones and over 100 Chinese ones.  As reported in The Economist, some people have the attitude that “A diploma is worth actual money, whereas an education is not.”[2] Smart businessmen should have the opposite opinion: Reward your employees for skills and productivity, not for pieces of paper.

The Honor of Fake Honorifics?

Recently the Supreme Court of the US ruled that lying about having won a military medal is "Free Speech" .  OK, granted.  People are free to say anything they want-- but they should be shunned for doing so-- treated like garbage.

There are many other, milder forms of self-aggrandizement.  For example...  If you become a lawyer, PLEASE don't put "Esquire" after your name.  It doesn't mean anything.  OK, so it actually does mean something, but it means that you are the servant of a Knight.  Why it is that lawyers in the US think this is cool is beyond me.  If you think it is cool, then please call yourself Esquire BEFORE you get your law degree, too, since having a law degree and being an "Esquire" are totally unrelated!

You might as well call yourself a Colonel as well, just like "Colonel Sanders".  He wasn't a Colonel, but it is a fake honorific used by some old, self-appointed southern gentlemen, just like the fake Esquire honorific. If you want to be really fake, then you can also form a sole proprietorship ( I have, all it takes is to say "I am a sole proprietor!"), then call yourself the Chairman and CEO. And, while you are at it, start calling yourself Reverend!  Yep, there is no requirement except to start using it.  Now, you , John Smith, can introduce yourself as:

     Reverend Colonel John Smith, Esquire, Chairman and CEO of Smith Enterprises, Ltd.  
If you are desperate to impress people, then please... GO AND DO SOMETHING HONORABLE!!!  The world needs you to achieve greatness. Words are cheap. When you lie, cheat and steal to fake honor, you cost yourself more than you know.

[1]Economics of corruption in doctoral education: The dissertations market,
[2] July 7th, 2012 Fake Degrees: A Quick Study, The Economist.

How The Grinch Stole Greensboro's TubaChristmas

When I was young, I played the Trumpet, Tuba, and Euphonium (a small tuba, in the same range as a trombone, but with a beautiful sound, and valves, see mine above).  In Junior High and High School I would go to UNC-Greensboro one Saturday in Early December to practice Christmas music with 150 other tuba, euphonium, and baritone (very similar to a euphonium) players.  Then we would all truck over to Four Seasons Town Centre (the Mall) and play a half hour concert for the shoppers.  This event is called TubaChristmas, and is repeated all over the world every year.

Last January, I bought myself a used Euphonium, after not having one for 20 years.  I have been practicing, with my goal to be ready for TubaChristmas this year.  However, there won't be any TubaChristmas in Greensboro in 2012.  The closest one will be in Winston Salem.  I am so sad!

It seems that since the Four Seasons Mall went bankrupt and was sold recently, that the new mall owners (General Growth Properties) were giving the organizers a hard time about trying to have TubaChristmas at the mall.  What a great way to welcome yourselves to the community-- destroy an over 30 year old Christmas tradition??? Dr. Dennis Askew, at UNC-Greensboro, had been organizing this even for many years.

Here are some YouTube clips from Greensboro TubaXmases past:

There is an event in Winston-Salem, but the information on this one still seems pretty sketchy to me - according to

LOCATION: Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum
REGISTRATION: 11:00 am, Winston-Salem State University, K.R. Williams Auditorium
REHEARSAL: 1:00 pm, same
PARKING: University and Colliseum <sic> lots
CONDUCTOR: Brent Harvey
COORDINATORS: Brent M. Harvey 336-750-2526, Bart Collins 336-456-2359

Why the coliseum?  What is going on?  It looks like it is going to be played 1 hour before a basketball game?  Does my family need tickets to the basketball game to watch?  What a sad end to a LOOOONG Greensboro tradition-- I played it in 1983 and 1984 that I am sure of, and a few after that, I think.  I took my 3 year old to see it last year, and told him that Daddy would be there playing next year.

I hope that TubaChristmas can come back to Greensboro next year.  I might have to scavenge up a brass quatrtet, and go sit in a parking lot somewhere to play some Christmas music.  Any takers?

Bah Humbug?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Death of the Berkeley Electronic Press Journals

Maybe I'm the last one to figure it out, but the Berkeley Electronic Press journals have shut down and been sold for a year! I found it pretty hard to find information about this topic, so here is what I was able to find out. I discovered that Joshua Gans also made some great comments on his blog.

Background: Back in 1999 a bunch of professors got together and founded the "Berkeley Electronic Press". they had some really great ideas to try to combat some of the problems in the publishing industry.  The three most important ones that most economists bought into were:
1) a guaranteed fast decision on submitted articles, or your money back
2) much cheaper rates for University subscriptions
3) papers were published on a rolling basis, so as soon as a paper was accepted and formatted (by the author) the paper was put online-- no delay!

This is in a time when publishers were jacking up subscription fees to libraries to astronomical rates, and many journals were taking six months to a year before giving any feedback on submitted papers.  This kind of behavior can be deadly to an academic career, when tenure-track professors only have six years to not only get articles published, but also to demonstrate that they are being read by these papers getting cited.  However, if it takes three years before your article gets published, supposing that someone reads it right then, cites it and submits their paper to be published on the same day, it might take three years for that paper to get published.  This ridiculously slow process was supposed to be sped up because when you submitted a paper you had two choices:
A) pay a submission fee
B) agree to provide two reviews of papers that will be sent to you in the future very quickly; if you are slow, you get charged the fee

I am sure that most people who were involved with editing these journals, and most people who submitted papers to these journals did so because they bought into the idea that "we can do this better".  Also, this system made the research more widely available, since more libraries could afford to subscribe to the collection, and individuals could access the content for no monetary cost ( by filling out a nagging form).  I supported the enterprise, by submitting a paper there and having it rejected.  But the point is, they rejected it quickly!

I must be way behind the times, but I just discovered that the Berkeley Electronic Press sold their 60 journals (in September 2011) to a company called De Gruyter.  From all appearances, things don't seem to be going well since the transfer.  One year later, it it seems like many journals are not really publishing any more (For example, it appears that  BEJEAP has published ONE article since January, 2012... but it is hard to tell).  Also, there are some comments on their site, from people claiming that their submitted article has disappeared into the nether, or submission fees have been lost, or other complaints.  For example:

  • How can I get a response from the journal? I submitted my manuscript more than 5 months ago, sent two emails to the journal. Unfortunately, have not heard back. posted by: Zaz on 2012-08-18 07:00 PM (Europe/Berlin)

  • On RePEc the publisher for all of these journals is still listed as "Berkeley Electronic Press", e.g. see here. Also, the website seems to be very poorly organized, and very uninformative.  For example, I was looking at the "Journal Policies" for the B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy, and it takes you to a generalized "Copyright Agreement".  When you go to submit an article, the submission system still refers to the "Berkeley Electronic Press" for some reason, and they still have the old language on the website: they are still pretending to give you the option between reviewing or paying a submission fee, but when it comes down to it, they demand $75 in cold, hard cash.  they also still have the language on the site guaranteeing:

    " you quality peer reviews, an editorial decision, and publication of accepted manuscripts within 70 days."

    Now, since I don't see articles being published for many, many months at a time, I'm not sure what this means.  Either they are not accepting any articles at all, or they are refunding a lot of submission fees, because one cannot accept and publish articles within 70 days, with gaps of 9 months.  After browsing around quite a long time on their website, it is very unclear what's going on. Note to  De Gruyter-- your websites are very hard to navigate and look like something that even I could throw together (see their home page to see what I mean, and compare it to something I DID throw together (but with loving care, I assure you!)).  If someone from the company wants to reply, I would love to hear what's really going on.

    In any case, the "BEPress" guys say that now they are focusing on "Open Access Services", whatever that means, and they still have their "SelectedWorks" pages, where I have a page.  See here for some less than clear information.  After spending some time trying to understand what happened and why, I am still very lost. Until something major happens, both of the journals under their new ownership, and the old BEPress guys are dead to me. I am also seriously considering shutting down my SelectedWorks page, because I really don't understand what it is at this point if it is not associated with economics journals anymore.  RePEc seems to be a much more useful network of sites.

    When it come to "Open Access Services", everyone should know about the Open Journal System (OJS), which is a free, open source journal management system that could be used for a pay journal, but seems to be used more for open access ones.  That is what I use for the regional science journal I co-edit. As a co-editor for an open access journal, one that charges NO fees to submitters, readers, libraries, or anyone else (see, I am very disturbed by the demise of the BEP journals. Dozens of journals that seemed to be fairly well-run, well respected, and committed to inexpensive access and efficient operation have been thrown into chaos.  Below are the names of some of the well-known journals that have been affected:

    Advances in Economic Analysis & Policy
    Advances in Macroeconomics
    Advances in Theoretical Economics
    Asian Journal of Comparative Law
    Asia-Pacific Journal of Risk and Insurance
    B. E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy
    B. E. Journal of Macroeconomics
    B. E. Journal of Theoretical Economics
    Basic Income Studies
    Business and Politics
    California Journal of Politics and Policy
    Capitalism and Society
    Contributions to Economic Analysis & Policy
    Contributions to Macroeconomics
    Contributions to Theoretical Economics
    Economists' Voice
    Forum for Health Economics & Policy
    Frontiers of Economic Analysis & Policy
    Frontiers of Macroeconomics
    Frontiers of Theoretical Economics
    Global Economy Journal
    Journal of Agricultural & Food Industrial Organization
    Journal of Business Valuation and Economic Loss Analysis
    Journal of Globalization and Development
    Journal of Industrial Organization Education
    Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports
    Journal of Time Series Econometrics
    Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy
    Poverty & Public Policy
    Review of Law & Economics
    Review of Marketing Science
    Review of Middle East Economics and Finance
    Review of Network Economics
    Risk, Hazards & Crisis in Public Policy
    Studies in Nonlinear Dynamics & Econometrics
    The B.E. Journals in Economic Analysis & Policy
    The B.E. Journals in Macroeconomics
    The B.E. Journals in Theoretical Economics
    Topics in Economic Analysis & Policy
    Topics in Macroeconomics  
    Topics in Theoretical Economics

    Wednesday, August 29, 2012

    Stop Calling me, CVS!

    Contact your customers-- but don't annoy them to death!

    There is a rule in most businesses that a small number of good customers provide a large share of the profits.  Businesses need to identify who these people are, and paper them.  CVS Pharmacy seems to be doing the opposite.  The more business you do with them, the more they hound you with repeated, annoying, deceptive calls!

    I have finally had enough of CVS's telephone calls and other annoying marketing tactics.  It is time for me to switch.  A simple Google search reveals that I am not the only one who is sick and tired of what they are doing.  How can a corporation be so shortsighted that it annoys its customers to death?  I have had a lot of health problems in the last 10 years, so I am a VERY good customer of theirs.  However, they treat me like just another person to annoy.  Here are a few specifics in my case:

    1) CVS added prescriptions to an "Automatic Refill" program without my consent. That means that every time they feel that I need more medicine, they refill it and call me 5 to 10 times to tell me to pick it up.  These include calls from a human being, calls to my cell phone, and robo-calls.  
    2) Last week they called and left a message telling me that it was "very important that I call them right away".  The emergency was, that I had one of those auto-refilled prescriptions to pick up.  First, this is just blatant deception. Why not leave a message like the 1,000 before?  It WAS NOT very important to waste my time to call them back.  Second, I had just picked up a 3-month supply two weeks before!
    3) They just called my home and my cell to tell me that I could pick up some more nose drops if I wanted.  Honestly. they left a message at home, again telling me that it was "very important for me to call right away".  They reached me on my cell, interrupting me at work… That is the only reason that I know about these extremely important nose drops.
    4) The people who call you tell you that they are not allowed to stop calling you.  You have to call their corporate number in order to request that they stop calling you. Here is how to get CVS to stop calling you, at least in theory: Call 1-800-746-7287, and right after their answering system finishes telling you about language options, say "CALL".  Basically, keep saying "CALL" until it says that it is connecting you with the person.  Tell the person that you want them to stop all calls whether it is from a recorded message or a person and give them every phone number you have.  Even though the person on the other end of the line is "innocent", I don't think it would hurt to show them a little anger: CBS needs to understand how much this is angering some of us.

    There are two big problems with this, aside from the obvious fact that annoying your customers with endless calls, and deceptive calls, will drive them away:

    a) They are wasting their own money and time. I just picked up a 100 day supply of one medicine for example, and 25 days later they are calling me telling me that I have a refill ready.
    b) This seems to be illegal. According to :
    In 2008 an FTC Rule: "Expressly prohibit telemarketing sales calls that deliver prerecorded messages, whether answered in person by a consumer or by an answering machine or voicemail service, unless the seller has previously obtained the recipient's signed, written agreement to receive such calls".  

    Now, there are a few exemptions and exceptions in the law that CVS might be hiding behind.  Businesses are allowed to call customers with which they have a relationship, and there is an exemption for purely informational messages ( e.g., your flight has been canceled). There is also an exemption for "healthcare-related prerecorded message calls that are subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act", but I cannot believe that the FCC had this nonsense in mind for pure telemarketing from Drug Stores.

    Hopefully some lawyers will get involved and file a class-action suit against CVS. Normally, I am not in favor of all of the class-action suits out there, since they are usually settled in very little of the money ever reaches the consumers who are affected.  However, in this case, I just want it to stop!  over the next few weeks, I am going to begin transferring all of my prescriptions elsewhere, even though there really is no other pharmacy that is remotely convenient for me.  But, I have had enough!

    Tell me about your experiences in the comment section below!  Anything more ridiculous than what I have experienced?

    Wednesday, April 4, 2012

    Obama and the World Bank-- SHAME! .

    A public health guy in charge of a bank?  Silly.  The WORLD Bank? 
    Since I am not a development economist myself, I am trusting the word of The Economist Magazine's article on this a few days ago.  Appointments to the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), just like most ambassadorial, cabinet, and other top jobs such as head of the NSF and FDA, are motivated far too much by politics, and far too little by considerations about who would do the best job (i.e. meritocracy).

    Now, it is ok to repay friends with meaningless jobs, say the Ambassador to a small, peaceful island somewhere.  But when it comes to the IMF and WB, you are literally killing millions of people when you appoint someone without the proper training, understanding, intelligence, and focus to improve the lives of the poverty-stricken people in the world.

    Mr. Obama is apparently trying to get Jim Yong Kim, someone with an MD and experience in Public Health, to lead the World Bank.  The WB's job is to teach developing nations how to grow out of poverty through the right kinds of choices and development, and through providing loans to fund that development.

    The first grounds for shame are simply the most obvious: a public health professor has as much ability to run the WB as I do to run the World Health Organization(WHO).  The only difference being, that I have spent many, many years of my life dedicated to studying health economics, health law, pharmacology, and other health related issues.  I got a research grant from the NIH.  However, being an honorable man, if the president asked me to head the WHO I would slap him very hard on the back and ask him how stupid and/or crazy one of us are.  While I have a lot that I could ADVISE the leader the WHO about, I would be a murderer if I ran it.  Lives would be in my (incapable) hands.

    I am certain that Mr. Kim is smart, but part of being smart is knowing your limitations and living within them.  I have often said that I am more comfortable working with limited people who know their limitations, than brighter people who have no clue when they are attempting to do something beyond their talents.

    I think that this is certainly the case here-- Mr. Kim has no idea what economic development is.  Mr. Kim wrote a foreward in a book  "called “Dying for Growth”, he wrote that “the quest for growth in GDP and corporate profits has in fact worsened the lives of millions of men and women”, quoted Noam Chomsky and praised Cuba for “prioritising social equity”."  The leader of an economic development organization had BETTER not claim that economic development is bad, nor that Cuba has done it the right way. Noam Chomsky is another prime example of a brilliant person (who I do admire on many grounds) who goes a bit batty when talking economics.  Promoting "equity" always has the consequence of reducing prosperity overall, which is the opposite of the need in developing countries.  These are the unforgivable sins of Obama, and for Mr. Kim if he plays along.

    The other interesting thing in the Economist article is the discussion of the three top candidates for the job:
    "The World Bank is the world’s premier development institution. Its boss needs experience in government, in economics and in finance (it is a bank, after all). He or she should have a broad record in development, too. Ms Okonjo-Iweala has all these attributes, and Colombia’s José Antonio Ocampo has a couple. By contrast Jim Yong Kim, the American public-health professor whom Barack Obama wants to impose on the bank, has at most one."

    I find it very interesting that a woman from Africa, who seems to have the right qualifications, is being pushed aside for a wholly unqualified Korean.  Hey, I love Koreans as well as Africans, but what kind of twisted process has us favoring an unqualified person over a well-qualified one, regardless of the race or gender?  There has to be some strange reason, perhaps Obama's close ties to South Korea (Obama has visited South Korea more than any other foreign country as president).  I would give bonus points to a competent, qualified African simply because much of the important development work needs to be focused on sub-Saharan Africa.  Perhaps an African has some new insights, or leadership styles, that could make a difference.  To be sure, southern Asia also has a lot of economic development needs.

    In any case, a public health professor should never have been on the list, much less the short list of candidates.  By the way, Ms. Okonjo-Iweala has  Ph.D. from MIT in Regional Economic Development.  Her dissertation topic: "Credit Policy, Rural Financial Markets, and Nigeria's Agricultural Development".  Mr. Kim has an MD from Harvard as well as a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology.  Dissertation Title: "Pills, production, and the symbolic code: Pharmaceuticals and the political economy of meaning in South Korea".  Though my experience with social anthropology suggests that it is largely gibberish, I skimmed Kim's thesis (353 pages!!), and it is at least readable, if far too informal for me. While neither Kim nor Okonjo-Iweala's degree is shabby, who would you pick?

    One of the biggest lessons we offer to developing nations is that the right people must get the right jobs, and that this should happen by looking for the best, not our cronies.  It is sad to see the rot in Washington DC that could produce this outcome.

    Just one last note-- to be an equal opportunity offender, I am not a cheerleader for any party, only for honesty, reason, and science.  Of course, that means that I thought that GW Bush did just as horribly on many occasions, with his nominations/appointees for the Supreme Court and several other national agencies, for which we all felt the pain.  Why our leaders feel that anything less than the best, most honest effort possible is honorable, I will never understand.  Let's hope we can raise our children to be better.

    Wednesday, February 1, 2012

    Ron Paul, Gingrich, and Gold Money

    I was going to write a long, boring blog on the Gold Standard that Newt and Ron Paul are talking about.  Instead, I made a long, slightly less boring video on it.  Basically, some Republicans/Tea Partiers/Libertarians are supporting a return to the Gold Standard for no reason, other than their general distrust of the "Guv'mint".  Let me go on record as totally distrusting ALL politicians, left, right, center, and libertarian.  But, while I buy into the INCOMPETENCE of the US government, I don't get the active hatred or conspiracy theories.

    Look, I also  admit that I am not one of the few experts on how the Gold Standards used to work 40-80 years ago before I was born.  However, what I do know tells me that these standards were abandoned for good reasons.

    See my YouTube video for more.


    Monday, January 23, 2012

    Race and Majors at Duke, Why the Hubbub?

    This week newspapers have been covering how (some) black students at Duke are mad about a study done by a couple of professors. one of them an economist at Duke.  This is a dangerous topic, because no matter what one says on this issue, someone is going to be offended.  So, here I go!

    Basically, a survey of Duke students' majors found that black students at Duke are more likely to switch to an "easier" major after they get there than white students are.  And so, black students at Duke are mad.  At what exactly, I haven't been able to divine from the reports.  Most articles quote Nana Asante, president of the black Student Alliance: (from

    “The implications and intentions of this research at the hands of our very own prestigious faculty, seemingly without a genuine concern for proactively furthering the well-being of the black community, (are) hurtful and alienating.” She asked the researchers and the university administration “what image has this … report portrayed to the rest of the country, namely our peer institutions, about Duke and its black students? Asante said the research paper does not “account for the societal, complex and institutional factors that must be considered in any attempt to delineate trends in racial differences in grade point averages and major choices, in a scholarly manner. 

    The implication is that because Duke and many other schools have affirmative action policies to give more minorities the opportunity to attend, that some may compensate by choosing less difficult majors at Duke.  They found the same thing with respect to others who get more "opportunity" to get in with more leeway on scores, namely legacies (kids of alumni). It makes sense to me!  I actually saw a few cases where it appeared to me that a legacy, athlete, or minority just wasn't as prepared for the Duke Juggernaut. Look, very few people are! Why are people mad?

    It is well-known and commonly discussed that on average, Hispanics and blacks attend poorer schools, and might be less well prepared for college.  Similarly, kids from rural areas (like me) went to school systems where we didn't have the greatest teachers, either, with a few exceptions, of course.  For example, the calculus teacher in my high school did not understand even the basics of calculus.  (I also had a French teacher in 9th grade who knew absolutely no French.) Yes, we had AP classes, but when discussing a poem, my AP English teacher told my good friend (who had the 3rd highest GPA in a large school):
    Teacher: "In this line he is saying this." 
    Friend: "I think he could be saying that." 
    Teacher<enraged>: "You are not here to think.  I am the only one paid to think here." 

    Additionally, I dealt with the same kind of anti-intellectualism you read about in poor, urban high schools. Having spent 6 years at Duke getting my Ph.D., let me tell you: My rural high school did not prepare me to survive at Duke, and I would not have survived had I gone there for Undergrad.  I did a lot of growing and catching up in my 5 years at Appalachian State, and was therefore well-prepared for my Ph.D. work. Again, why are the students mad?  I find this data very enlightening, and do not find it demeaning to anyone.

    Years ago, I was concerned about a similar possibility:  I wondered if it was possible that, if a student is let in to a school in some preferential way, that they might be possibly less prepared, and less likely to graduate-- it just stands to reason (some suggest this about George W. Bush's record).  I am pleased to say, that most research has not found this to be the case for black students at most highly ranked universities.  The currently-criticized study actually may help to partially explain why.  I am intimately aware of how preparation, both academic and in terms of maturity and attitude, can affect chances of graduation.  Also, any professor/advisor has seen students who move up to a more difficult or down to a less difficult major, oftentimes due to that student having high or low preparation compared to his peers.

    If students or advocates want to get mad, do you:
    Get mad at the data?
    Get mad at the researchers for collecting the data?
    Get mad at the researchers for writing the report?
    Get mad at Duke for their affirmative action?

    Well, please don't get mad at me!  Yes, I get it... they got mad because they think it makes them "look bad"?  Sorry, I disagree.  And, it is juvenile to get mad at data.  To kill the messenger is also juvenile.  I personally know many of the Duke Economics faculty since I went there, but also because I have worked with them for years in a program for minorities who want to get their Ph.D. in economics.  These people voluntarily worked for many years on this program, and had a great impact on a lot of very smart kids.  These guys are not trying to make anyone look bad, they are uncovering facts.

    What burns me up most is this:  Any time someone is determined to get offended when data doesn't show that they are made of solid gold, you put a chilling effect on such research.  It is already very difficult to report unpopular results on race, gender, sexual orientation, and the like. By yelling each and every time, you guarantee that fewer people will do research on your group, and we will understand less, and therefore be less able to uncover when there are genuine concerns.  If you are outraged, I need to ask you one final, crucial question: "Having done the research, and found out something unpopular, do you really want people to shred the report at that point?  Will that make you better off?"  If you believe so, then you are an ostrich, and yes, should not be at an institution such as Duke. Please, please Duke students: Thank these researchers.  Apologize to them.  And then let them help you to think about solutions to any problems you think exist.

    Friday, January 6, 2012

    December's Unemployment Rates

    Link: WFMY Interview on Youtube:
    Well, things are finally looking up for the US economy.  The unemployment rate (first estimate, they will revise it soon) for December was 8.5%, down from an estimated 8.7% in November, 2011.  This, along with other good news about  hiring and unemployment benefit filings all seem to confirm that we are making good progress toward recovery.

    In this blog I want to briefly explain how unemployment data is collected and unemployment rates are calculated, since nearly every week someone in the media or government gets it wrong.  I'll also discus some weaknesses of how it is measured, and why we should or shouldn't care.

    The Bureau of labor Statistics in Washington, DC is in charge of surveying over 100,000 people each month in order to determine the unemployment rate.  To simplify, suppose we want to estimate the unemployment rate for a small town.  We would want to get a list of all of the households, and randomly select say, 100 of them.  Suppose that a total of 200 people live in these households.  The procedure for determining the unemployment rate is as follows:

    First we ask all 200 people if they are at least 16 years old.  Suppose 50 of our 200 are under 16; we throw them out of the survey.

    Next, we ask the 150 remaining people "Did you work for pay last week?"  The "for pay" eliminates housework, homework, and volunteer work.  Suppose 90 of our 150 did.

    Next, we ask the 60 (150-90) people remaining who said "No, I did not work for pay last week" one more question.  We ask "Did you actively look for a job last week?"  Actively means that you did something, such as call around, mail our your resume, fill out an application, or go into a business as ask if they are accepting applications.  An example of something that is not active would be browsing through the "Help Wanted" ads in the newspaper, without doing anything.  Heck, even I do that just for fun sometimes.  Suppose 10 of our 60 said that they did actively look for work.  The other 50 might be retired, full time students, house-husbands, or discouraged workers who have given up the search.

    Our unemployment estimate comes from adding the 10 "active lookers" to the 90 employed people, to get 100 people in the labor market (working or actively seeking employment).  10 of the 100 are unemployed, for a 10 percent unemployment rate.  This is currently a little higher than the 8.5% US rate and the 9.5% rate in my home state of North Carolina.

    Some people don't like the method we use to calculate the unemployment rate, and I have my own problems with it.  Some people don't like the fact that discouraged workers are not counted.  Some people don;t like that the question asks "Did you work for pay", but not how many hours or for how much pay.  I agree that this measure is not perfect, but as long as you know how it is calculated, then you know what it can and what it cannot tell us. [As a side note, we do collect data on underemployment (working PT when you want FT) and discouraged worker status]

    The most important use is simply for us to be able to see if things are getting better or getting worse.  And, thankfully, things are getting better.  The US unemployment rate topped out at close to 10.1% two years ago.  We still have a long way to go, but the trend is still slow, somewhat steady improvement, though there have been some bumps in the road.  I am not an economic forecaster, but I am finally feeling more confident that we are on the right path.  However, problems in the Euro zone could always come to bite us!  Let's hope they can get themselves sorted out...

    Additionally, the way we define the unemployment rate is pretty close to how most countries do it, so we can compare what is going on in the US to other countries.  Just for fun, here are some other recent underemployment figures from other countries (from mid-to-late 2011, from various sources...)
    Canada: 7.47%
    France: 9.8%
    S. Korea: 3.40%
    Spain: 22.9%
    Portugal 12.9%
    Ireland: 14.1%
    Brazil: 5.2%
    Puerto Rico: 15.7%
    Iceland: 7.1%
    Japan: 4.5%