The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
School of Law

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Average Math Ability and Its Implications
Mike Rappaport

A recent study indicates that the average math ability of males and females is the same.  From this conclusion, many have reasoned that Larry Summers was mistaken.  But not true.  The study actually supports his conclusion. 

According to Marginal Revolution, "what this study found was that the ratio of male to female variance in ability was positive and significant, in other words we can expect that there will be more math geniuses and more dullards, among males than among females." 

MR continues:

Now the study authors clearly wanted to downplay this finding so they wrote things like "our analyses show greater male variability, although the discrepancy in variances is not large."  Which is true in some sense but the point is that small differences in variance can make for big differences in outcome at the top.

If you do the same type of calculation as the authors [of the study] but now look at the expected gender ratio at 4 standard deviations from the mean [which is where top math professors would be] you find a ratio of more than 3:1, i.e. just over 75 men for every 25 women should be expected at say a top-25 math or physics department on the basis of math ability alone (see the extension for details on my calculation).  Now does this explain everything that is going on?  I doubt it.  As Summers also pointed out it takes more than ability to become a professor at Harvard and if there are variance differences in characteristics other than ability (and there are) we can easily get a even larger expected gender ratio.

Unfortunatley, most people won't hear about this aspect of the study. 

July 31, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

California budget mess
Tom Smith

My friend Steve Bainbridge is not happy about Arnie's plan to get a budget passed.

I don't follow California politics very closely because it is too depressing.  It's more encouraging to follow Ecuador or Guiana.  You get an idea of our public services by the fact that I feel I have to own a gun, a powerful fire fighting pump, and send my kids to private school.  I use the local water but our district is notoriously corrupt, or so I'm told.

July 30, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

LA Times side of the Edwards-Hunter blogokerfuffle
Tom Smith

This is kinda interesting.  A blogger actually called the LA Times on the phone and got their side of the don't blog about Edwards story.

July 30, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Genius of Charles Darwin
Mike Rappaport

Some things about Charles Darwin I didn't know:

Charles Darwin was a giant. He did not merely write "On the Origin of Species" — one of the most important books ever written by anyone — in which he describes how evolution by natural selection works, and what some of its consequences and implications are. He also wrote — and this list is not exhaustive— a treatise on the formation of coral reefs that is still thought to be correct; a definitive monograph on barnacles, both extinct and extant; a book about how earthworms make soil; a now-classic text on carnivorous plants (the ones, like Venus fly-traps, that ensnare and digest insects); a book about the strange ways that orchids get themselves fertilized; and an account of the five years he spent aboard the ship HMS Beagle, which has become a classic of travel writing.

As if that wasn't enough, he proposed sexual selection — the idea that decorations and ornaments, like peacocks' tails, evolve because females in many species prefer to mate with the most beautiful males. Sexual selection has since become a major field of research in its own right.

I am not the only one with some ignorance about Darwin.  Consider this:

This reminds me of a conversation I had years ago with Harry Jaffa. He criticized Darwin. I responded by quoting some passages from Darwin's Descent of Man. Jaffa then confessed that he had never read Darwin.             
"Despite the fact that they paint Darwin and Hegel as the twin evils for natural right, the Claremont/Jaffa types almost always delve much more deeply into historicism (Hegel, Wilson, FDR, etc.) than Darwin. . . . What is often lacking in the Claremont stuff here is an actual demonstration, even in brief, of Darwin's thought, using Darwin's own words

July 29, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Free Markets or Regulated Markets?
Mike Rappaport

One of the core ideas of free market enthusiasts is that many of the "failures" of free markets are actually the results of government intervention.  The problem is that the public does not realize what is at fault.  Certainly Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac appear to be an example.  And, in fact, the old S & L crisis was another.   The Great Depression, as Milton Friedman explained, was yet another.   In my own scholarship, I have shown that the failure  of unemployment insurance to develop in private markets was not necessarily the fault of markets.  Instead, government regulations prohibited insurance companies, who wanted to sell private unemployment insurance, from doing so.  See "The Private Provision of Unemployment Insurance," 1992 Wisconsin   Law Review 61 (1992) and Origins of the Unemployment Insurance Mess," Wall St. J. (Oct. 31, 1991).

Will Wilkinson gets the point:

Consider the fact that the Federal Reserve is a central planning committee. We are lucky, I think, to have intelligent, highly professional planners, but there are in-principle limits to what they can do with limited information, and so there is no way they are not going to get it wrong sometimes, or a lot of times. The housing “bubble,” which has turned out very badly for a lot of people, and the historically high price of gas, which is to a large extent a function of the low value of the American dollar, probably has had a lot to do with the policies chosen by our monetary central planners. Failures of government planning don’t discredit free markets. Rather, they suggest free markets might be worth trying some time.

Did the ratings agencies and investment banks screw up royally in their assessment of the risk of certain classes of mortgage-backed securities? Yes they did. Did assurances of bailouts, implicit and explicit, from the government to the financial industry encourage dangerous risk-seeking? Yes they did. Many market institutions, like our advanced financial markets, are very far from being self-organizing outgrowths of unregulated market exchange. Instead they are, by and large, creatures of the vast body of law and government regulation that defines the rules of market exchange — that determine what may be bought and sold, and how — and are tightly integrated with more or less freestanding government institutions like the Fed. When these markets stumble, it’s just a rookie mistake of political economy to see that as problem with markets, per se, rather than as a problem with the way regulation and government institutions happen to have structured those markets and thereby structured the incentives of the individuals and firms that act within them.

Here’s another example of the mixed economy. Food is expensive these days, which hits poorer Americans especially hard. Part of the price hike is due to normal market forces; supply has yet to catch up with the increased demand from the rising middle class in China and India and elsewhere. But a large part of it comes from our own government’s frankly idiotic policy of subsidizing corn ethanol, which pushes up the price of all sorts of foods, from wheat to milk to meat. So the conclusion we should draw from this is what? Damn you free market!?

July 28, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Old entrepreneurs
Tom Smith

As a fifty-something entrepreneur myself, I agree with every word of this.

I read somewhere that the average age of people starting companies is well into the forties.  Personally, I think the ideal start up has some young people, some old people and some rich people (who are frequently old).

July 27, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Old entrepreneurs
Tom Smith

As a fifty-something entrepreneur myself, I agree with every word of this.

I read somewhere that the average age of people starting companies is well into the forties.  Personally, I think the ideal start up has some young people, some old people and some rich people (who are frequently old).

July 27, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

There will be no mention on this blog of the Edwards Hunter affair
Tom Smith

This is just to mention not that while we are not officially an LA Times blog, we have decided to toe the LA Times line of not saying anything about whether John Edwards was or was not having an illicit love affair with aspiring film maker L. Hunter while his wife is suffering from cancer.  John Edwards, as many of you know, grew up poor.  His father worked in a mill.  This was hard, and we believe, or rather I do anyway, that this may make is more difficult for him to resist any opportunity he may or may not have had to "hook up" with the aspiring film maker in a luxurious LA hotel.  Perhaps on those long North Carolina nights, with the mill whistle whistling in the background, he thought, someday, I will hook up with a hottie in the Beverley Hills Hotel.  Well, he might have.  So if you expect to read about this non-story here, you can just forget it.  As far as I am concerned, it is nobody's business and we should take pretend it didn't happen, which it didn't, maybe.

July 27, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

The glass blogoceiling
Tom Smith

I read this piece in the NYT about lady bloggers gettin' no respect and thought exactly what this guy has already said.  All but a very few bloggers get no respect.  Nobody except Glenn Reynolds makes any money blogging, and if you are getting no traffic, your best remedy is to deal with it by cracking open the bottle you've been saving, slipping a movie you love into the DVD or maybe going for a long run.  Whatever.  If you go to a conference about how sad it is that nobody goes to your blog, you need to get a life and right now.

July 27, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, July 25, 2008

A truly heartbreaking story
Tom Smith

Please, read this story only if you are prepared to weep.  Prepare yourself for the sadness, the insupportable tragedy of it.  As Samuel Johnson said of Lear, some things are not to be borne.  And so on.  I've warned you.

July 25, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)