Ratings: the downside

online reputation management

This is the framework all Troppo authors use in their online reputation management (ORM). KPIs are reported monthly. If you notice any Troppo authors going off track, please shoot an email to [email protected]

This article by Maureen O’Dowd on the stress of getting a good rating as a user of a service like Uber is worth pondering. It’s important what ratings are for. They’re supposed to be for the exchange of information. But sometimes they become strategic – like they are, or can become on RateMyProfessor where professors get threatened with strategic strikes against their ratings if they won’t give students what they want – ie good marks or whatever else they’re after.

There’s another problem. Even when the players are not motivated by strategic considerations, they might not be rating each other in a way which is generating the most important information for those who stand in their shoes and who are influenced by their ratings. I had one bad experience on oDesk where a guy I’d hired got irritated with me because I wasn’t giving him clear directions. For me that was a feature, not a bug. I was both trying to optimise my time but also seeking to just gradually explore whether I could work with the guy – was he resourceful, could he figure out what I was after etc. I also asked him to look up some material on a paywalled site. I told him that he could subscribe free for an introductory period of two weeks.

Anyway, all this ended badly. He thought I was trying to exploit him and was insisting that he pay subscriptions to work for me – which I wasn’t. And he was frustrated that my instructions were not clear and copious. But here’s the thing. I was buying a service from him. So the way I see it, so long as I was prepared to underwrite any horsing around, any incomprehension of his of my mysterious ways, that is so long as I was paying him for all the time he claimed to be taking, then I think it’s not that relevant to my rating as an employer if, on the first project, he found me less clear than he would like. (A lot of jobs on oDesk, and a lot of the jobs people are looking for, involve instructions like “copy the data from this website, and paste it into this spreadsheet from cell A1 down to cell A1000.)

Over time if we develop a working relationship and he continues to find my style a pain in the arse, well then that might be relevant to other contractors. In the upshot, while I’m all for the democratisation/equalisation of the employer/employee | contractor/contractee relationship and see ratings as a very powerful mechanism for doing so (why didn’t economic reform develop in that direction years ago?) that has to be oriented around their respective and different needs. People paying for services generally want quality work and a range of ancillary attributes to do with effective cooperation with the person paying. The overwhelming need for the contractor is to have an contractee who won’t be trying to pressure or short-change them – and in the case of my situation on oDesk who will underwrite their claims to work, however useless, while they work out whether they can work together.

 

The generative commons of generalised social capital

Paul Krugman has an interesting blog post on the extent to which there might be contagion from one area of social capital (or lack thereof) to another. He’s responding to the claim CEOs made to him that they only started arcing up their pay demands when they saw sportspeople doing it. And we can all understand the micro-foundations for rises in superstar sportspeople – local sub-urban live audiences morphing into TV audiences at the city, national or global level.

One of the things that’s gradually been happening over the same period is a kind of leeching away of general social solidarity. The most striking aspect of this is a stat I heard on Radio National’s All in the Mind. Asked of the importance of “being very well off financially”

The latest data from 2013 for entering university students here in the US, 82% say that that is an important life goal. And back in the late ’60s and early ’70s only about 45% said that was an important life goal.

Continue reading

The best films of the German Film Festival

Top Picks

Benjamin is a socially inept nobody. Max is handsome and charismatic. What these strangers have in common is computer hacking. After proving his skill, Benjamin is invited to join Max and his friends in a subversive hacker group. Identifying themselves as CLAY the gang carries out a series of spectacular attacks on political parties and even the ‘Federal Intelligence Agency’. For the first time in his life Benjamin feels like he belongs to something. Benjamin now wants recognition and status in the shadowy corner of cyberspace where hackers communicate-“the Net inside the Net.” To achieve this he will need to impress MR X, reigning king of the hacking world. The road to MR X involves an extremely dangerous Russian group known as FRI3NDS. With European cyber police also on his trail, Benjamin and CLAY will need to execute the most brilliant of plans just to stay alive.
☆☆☆☆ IMDB
Show Timings:

Every year without fail Hannes, his wife Kiki and their closest friends go on a bike tour. It’s Kiki’s turn to choose the destination and for some strange reason she’s selected Ostend in Belgium. Why Belgium? What does Belgium have to offer besides chocolate and fries? Shortly into the journey Hannes makes an announcement. He is terminally ill, and assisted suicide is legal in Belgium. This will be his final ride. After the shock has subsided the group decides to pedal hard and enjoy a wild time in celebration of Hannes’ life. For his younger brother Finn, womanizing Micha and bickering couple Mareike and Dominik, this will be a ride to remember.
☆☆☆☆☆ IMDB
Show Timings:

In the last days of Apartheid in South Africa four photographers from The Star newspaper in Johannesburg risked their lives daily to document the country’s frequent and appalling outbreaks of violence. Kevin Carter, Ken Oosterbroek, Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva were collectively known as the “Bang-Bang Club”. Today, only Marinovich and Silva are alive. Their candid testimony reveals how camaraderie, extreme bravery and sense of personal and professional duty results in the capturing of extraordinary and frequently disturbing moments in time. We also discover how violence and its aftermath claimed the lives of Carter and Oosterbroek.
☆☆☆☆ IMDB
Show Timings:

A documentary that analyzes the modern educational system and argues that it squelches children’s capacity for imagination, creativity, and independent thought. Our economic and social system is increasingly jeopardized by crises and there is no answer in sight. The politically and economically powerful were largely educated at the best schools and universities. Their cluelessness is tangible and long-term prospects have been replaced by hectic knee-jerk activity. It is becoming terrifyingly clear that the boundaries of our thinking have been too tightly confined from childhood on. Regardless of what school we attended, we follow thought patterns that date back to the early era of industrialization where what counted was forming people into well-functioning cogs in a production-line manufacture-driven society. Since then, learning contents may have greatly changed since then, and the school is no longer a place of authoritarian drilling. Nonetheless, the fixation on normed standards determines lessons more than ever. For some time now a harsh wind blows at schools. “Performance“, the maxim of the competitive society, has become the inexorable measure of all things throughout the world. But the exclusive orientation towards technocratic learning goals and the accurate repetition of context-free information is the death of precisely that playful creativity which might help us, without fear of failure, to seek new solutions. Alphabet concludes a trilogy that featured We feed the World and Let‘s make Money; it reverts to the themes of both, concentrating them in its lense and magnifying them to the point of ignition.
☆☆☆☆ IMDB
Show Timings:

Politics in the Courtroom: Political Ideology and Jury Decision Making

by Shamena Anwar, Patrick Bayer, Randi Hjalmarsson. Publication is available here.

This paper uses data from the Gothenburg District Court in Sweden and a research design that exploits the random assignment of politically appointed jurors (termed naemndemaen) to make three contributions to the literature on jury decision-making: (i) an assessment of whether systematic biases exist in the Swedish naemndemaen system, (ii) causal evidence on the impact of juror political party on verdicts, and (iii) an empirical examination of the role of peer effects in jury decision-making. The results reveal a number of systematic biases: convictions for young defendants and those with distinctly Arabic sounding names increase substantially when they are randomly assigned jurors from the far-right (nationalist) Swedish Democrat party, while convictions in cases with a female victim increase markedly when they are assigned jurors from the far-left (feminist) Vaenster party. The results also indicate the presence of peer effects, with jurors from both the far-left and far-right parties drawing the votes of their more centrist peers towards their positions. Peer effects take the form of both sway effects, where jurors influence the opinions of their closest peers in a way that can impact trial outcomes, and dissent aversion, where jurors switch non-pivotal votes so that the decision is unanimous.

Irreducibility: the micro-foundations

I’ve written about what I call irreducibility at least twice before. Then along comes this nice article in the excellent new publication The Mandarin on the “19 reasons why agencies find it hard to hire technologists“. It’s a classic case of how top down systems don’t manage the irreducibility of work at the coalface. Anyway, I’ll leave the list below, though the further explanation of each point is in the original via the link. I also haven’t included all the reasons as they require explanation – which you can get from the original.

  1. You force developers to use tools designed for lawyers
  2. You distrust your employees
  3. You tether developers to their desk
  4. You prefer government-specific service providers
  5. You still see waterfall as a viable option [rather than agile development]
  6. You don’t place process on a pedestal
  7. You erect a moat between developers and servers
  8. New technologies are guilty until proven innocent
  9. You use open source as a verb
  10. Working in the open is a novelty, not a best practice
  11. Speaking at conferences is tightly controlled
  12. Geeks are the bottom of your food chain
  13. Culture only happens outside of your working hours
  14. You measure your hiring process in months
  15. Onboarding is an afterthought
  16. Recruitment is unheard of
  17. You block half the internet

 

Discursive collapse – discursive reversal: the micro-foundations

Discursive essayI’ve written about the phenomenon of discursive collapse several times on Troppo. The engine behind the phenomenon is the desire of the discipline to get on with what it’s been doing – filling out some well recognised and somehow aesthetically pleasing research program. So when some problem comes up – like the theory of the second best for instance, there’s usually an interesting debate but it can be surprisingly short lived. If the problem threatens the logic of the research program it just fades into the background, largely ignored – but usually with a little sub-discipline starting up as a kind of ghetto in the discipline. The discipline exercises what Marcuse called ‘repressive tolerance’ which is to say it doesn’t directly repress the discussion, it tolerates it, and ignores its corrosive implications. Indeed the process can even lead to discursive reversal which is some travesty of the intentions and import of the original piece of work (on which also see this). In this post, after providing a further worked example, I’ll point to another brilliant explanation of what I take to be the same phenomenon in macro.

Lipsey’s and Lancaster’s ‘general theory of the second best’ illustrated the radical insufficiency of existing economic theory for generating robust policy conclusions by demonstrating that, where just one of the conditions for an optimum was violated, the other conditions of the optimum could no longer be assumed to be desirable.  Given that in any actual economy there are endless violations of optimality conditions, Mishan’s concern that the new theory might represent a new “impossibility theorem” – in the tradition of Arrow – was understandable.  The new theory initiated a vigorous debate about when one might still warrantably argue that the traditional principles of economic management – eg move pricing towards marginal cost, reduce or compensate for externalities, reduce asymmetric information to the extent possible or cost effective - in admittedly ‘second best’ situations, notwithstanding the corrosive implications of the theory of the second best (See Mishan reference above).  If, from this point, the discipline was to move forward with theoretical integrity, it would have to have been by way of the development of this literature which was true to the theoretical foundations of neoclassical economics.

Today however the careful considerations explored in that literature are rarely confronted in contemporary discussions of policy problems to which the theory of the second best is relevant. Continue reading

Overton Window – Overton Juggernaut: Part Three

Warning, this diagram came up in a Google image search and is not to be taken too seriously. It’s a jungle out there!

With parts one and two here and here . . . in which I conclude the previous two posts with a column for the Guardian which tries to condense the previous two posts as well as deliver on the tantalising ‘to be continued’ of Part Two. The flood of comments on both posts suggests you can hardly wait:

Call me old fashioned but I thought that, since the 1950s, the economic textbook had said that the job of macro-economic policy – broadly the suite of fiscal (the budget) and monetary policy (interest rates) – is to return the economy as rapidly as possible to the path that maximises employment growth without stirring inflation beyond its target band.

With policy rates set by central banks hovering around zero in most of the developed world, and economies depressed, the swing to austerity has been deeply misguided, as some international organisations like the IMF are recognising. At the very least the developed world could be funding a boom in infrastructure investment all financed at Western Governments’ cost of long-term borrowing – which is in many cases down around 2 per cent.

Things are different in Australia. In contrast to other countries, the aggressiveness of our fiscal stimulus, the absence of bank failures and (somewhat later) rising mining investment kept our Reserve Bank’s (RBA’s) cash rates well above zero. Given this, it made sense for Australia to tighten fiscal policy and to gradually return to surplus because interest rates could be lowered further if necessary to support growth. Continue reading

Overton Window – Overton Juggernaut: Part Two

Negus

Well folks, when I put “Overton Window – Overton Juggernaut” into Google and looked for an image, this came up naturally enough. If the cap fits . . .

Continued from Part One yesterday.

Over the last few years, there been a sense in which we didn’t like cutting cash rates to bring them too close to zero. Thus amidst fiscal contraction – initially quite strong as the one off aspects of the fiscal stimulus ceased – though tailing off in severity, and then mining investment boom came off, the RBA showed it’s penchant for very gradual easing (never cutting rates by more than 0.25% and then usually stopping for some time before the next rate cut). For the last few years, we’ve witnessed a situation where the government has been committed to gradual fiscal contraction – however successful it’s been at getting it through the parliament – and the Official Family have forecast slack in the economy to remain for a considerable time. In its February 2012 Statement on Monetary Policy the RBA suggested this:

Employment growth is expected to remain fairly subdued in the first half of this year . . . and the unemployment rate is expected to increase modestly. Employment growth is expected to begin to strengthen later in the year [with] the unemployment rate . . . expected to decline modestly over the later part of the forecast period.

By May 2012 output was forecast to average a sub-par 3% through 2012 and then grow to a sub-par 3–3½% in calendar 2013 which would be consistent with unemployment either remaining high or drifting higher. By Feb 2013 this was the RBA story:

Employment growth has remained subdued in recent months, with the unemployment rate drifting gradually higher. . . . Employment is expected to grow only modestly in the near term, broadly in line with the outlook implied by a range of leading indicators. Employment growth is then expected to pick up gradually, but to remain below the pace of population growth over most of the forecast horizon. Accordingly, unemployment is expected to drift gradually higher. Continue reading

Overton Window – Overton Juggernaut: Part One

Overton Window diagram.svgThe Overton Window is a quite well known expression describing the demarcation between political/policy discussion that is and is not acceptable in mainstream discussion. Sometimes what removes your idea from the window is that, whatever policy merit it might have, it would arouse the politically powerful and so ensure that it could only be implemented by democratic politicians with a death wish. This ‘rational’ interpretation of what’s in and outside the window is the one illustrated in most of the illustrations from which I took the one above. But a lot of the demarcation is much more arbitrary than that. It’s often just about what’s getting talked about. <MixedMetaphorAlert>So I have at least one policy horse in the race that’s outside the Overton Window for the classical reason that half a trillion dollars of market capitalisation of banking oligarchs would be seriously inconvenienced by it.</MixedMetaphorAlert> But other policy proposals of mine aren’t like that. They’re typically moderate, low or very low risk with high to very high potential payoffs.

So why aren’t they talked about? Well no reason really. They’re not talked about because they’re not talked about. Well they’re talked about by me. And when I give a presentation on them, people often respond as if they’re positively elevated to hear them. They complement me on how ‘lateral’ they are. Just hearing such ‘out of the box’ thinking makes them feel more innovative. They sometimes say I really should come and give a talk to their whole management group or some subset of it. They sometimes, though much more rarely, make that happen. And then they get back to their in-tray.

When I was working for the Business Council of Australia I once tried to sell independent fiscal policy to Australian Democrat Treasury spokesperson Andrew Murray. After my presentation he was very complimentary and asked if I couldn’t perhaps get anyone really important to publicly endorse the idea. It’s a reasonable question from him, as a person with limited expertise and resources at his command he needed to protect himself against crank proposals or proposals that earned him the ire of the powerful. I suggested he ask Ross Garnaut what he thought of the idea, but in the end Senator Murray just got back to his in-tray. And somehow most of the gatekeepers to the Overton Window don’t see it as their role to widen it in helpful ways.

They all get greater kudos for entertaining more mainstream thoughts, like “how soon should we balance the budget?”, “do we need more workplace flexibility?” or “will the RBA cut cash rates at it’s next meeting?” or that perennial “what’s the outlook for the Hawks next week the economy and how does [insert important person/institution] think it will go?”. Another fave is “how can we get back to the glory days of productivity growth?” (so long as it’s a well understood answer – like “more micro-economic reform” – which will be just like what we already know from the glory days of reform).

Those ‘out of the box’ the ideas I’ve sketched out often arise from a little reframing of an issue. So they’re not answers to well known questions – which very often come in the form of “should we spend more or less money on” or “should we tax this or that activity more?” complete with a quick cross to the interest groups who can be relied upon to slip into the trenches lobbing soundbites back and forth across the terrain of interests and ideologies. Continue reading