Above is my presentation to the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society – the background blurb of which is here. You’ll find the first half of the presentation on the fractal ecology of public and private goods is effectively the same content as the first half of this presentation from late last year. However where the first presentation takes the introductory framework as a basis for talking about social capital, the same framework is used as a basis for sketching out a terrain for public-private partnerships. Anyway, I mention this to save you time. I’m not much of a fan of watching videos, as it’s more efficient to read something but in case you’re OK with them – here’s another. But if you want to read the ideas presented you can read them in very summary form in the column here. But I’ve also completed a draft paper on the whole thing. If you’re interested, please email me at ngruen AT gmail and I’ll send you a copy on which I’d be grateful to receive comments and suggestions for improvement.
The excesses of ethics committees are a pet hate of mine, but I’d always thought that for instance the Stanley Milgram experiment was an example of the kind of experiment where genuine ethical issues arose that might justify not going ahead.
But now I read on Wikipedia that:
In Milgram’s defense, 84 percent of former participants surveyed later said they were “glad” or “very glad” to have participated, 15 percent chose neutral responses (92% of all former participants responding). Many later wrote expressing thanks. Milgram repeatedly received offers of assistance and requests to join his staff from former participants. Six years later (at the height of the Vietnam War), one of the participants in the experiment sent correspondence to Milgram, explaining why he was glad to have participated despite the stress:
While I was a subject in 1964, though I believed that I was hurting someone, I was totally unaware of why I was doing so. Few people ever realize when they are acting according to their own beliefs and when they are meekly submitting to authority… To permit myself to be drafted with the understanding that I am submitting to authority’s demand to do something very wrong would make me frightened of myself… I am fully prepared to go to jail if I am not granted Conscientious Objector status. Indeed, it is the only course I could take to be faithful to what I believe. My only hope is that members of my board act equally according to their conscience…
Milgram argued that the ethical criticism provoked by his experiments was because his findings were disturbing and revealed unwelcome truths about human nature.
“as much as I don’t understand it, Jeffrey Sachs really, really, really doesn’t understand it.” Nina Monk, author of The Idealist
“I don’t want to argue with you Jeff, because I don’t want to be called ignorant or unprofessional. I have worked in Africa for 30 years. My colleagues combined have worked in the field for one hundred plus years . We don’t like your tone. We don’t like you preaching to us. We are not your students. We do not work for you.” USAID head Pamela White to Jeff Sachs.
I just listened to yet another excellent EconTalk, this time with the author of The Idealist, which is about Jeffery Sachs’ efforts to end poverty and how they ran into well known problems. Problems that not only could have been predicted in advance, but problems that were predicted in advance.
I started tweeting words to the effect that “I’d always thought Jeff Sachs was a snake oil salesman”. Then conscience clicked in. I thought I’d better check Troppo to see if I was right – as H.L. Mencken says “conscience is that little voice inside you that tells you someone might be watching”. In any event, I’m not unhappy with my response to Sachs before the data was in.
In many ways this story is of a piece with my dyspeptic take on Red Tape and Political Correctness.
One might write this off as just a pity, a small silly excess to which we have gone, but it is an example of a larger phenomenon that is becoming more and more evident and unfortunate – the domination of daily life with edicts from on high. In this case, an issue arises. Those at the top of the hierarchical system then get into ‘something must be done’ mode. It is time to issue instructions. So instructions are issued. The problem is that the issue may be one of considerable subtlety. In the case of regulation, we really need the people at the coalface to be thinking about the efficiency of what they’re doing within a larger whole. It’s very difficult for the top, or the centre to get this to happen – as it has to happen at the periphery, but no matter. We’ll issue instructions.
Enough said – or enough said for now - I’m quite busy.
We estimate habit formation in voting–the effect of past on current turnout–by exploiting transitory voting cost shocks. Using county-level data on U.S. presidential elections from 1952-2012, we find that precipitation on current and past election days reduces voter turnout. Our estimates imply that a 1-point decrease in past turnout lowers current turnout by 0.7-0.9 points. Consistent with a dynamic extension of the Downsian framework, current precipitation has stronger effects following previous rainy elections. Further analyses suggest that this habit formation operates by reinforcing the intrinsic satisfaction associated with voting.
In the middle of this year a friend who had decamped to CSIRO from government wrote to me and asked me to participate in an interview exploring the economic impact of next generation broadband in Australia. Towards the end of his email he wrote.
If you are willing to take part in an interview, you should understand that:
· Your participation in the project is entirely voluntary and you are free to withdraw from the study at any time, without penalty and without providing a reason for doing so.
· You will be asked whether you consent to having your answers to the interview questions recorded for transcription purposes.
· Your name and that of your organisation will not be included in any publications from these interviews unless you provide specific permission for us to identify you as a participant in the research.
· Prior to the reporting of the study findings, you can request that any of the information that you provide in the interview be excluded from the analysis.
· If you have any concerns about the study or the interview process, you can contact the CSIRO’s Manager of Social Responsibility and Ethics [on phone number provided].
I wrote back immediately saying “Very happy to participate so long as I can avoid the kind of red tape intimated in your long list of things I should understand.” I also indicated that I was happy to provide blanket consent for them to do whatever they liked with the interview with me – after all, that’s the standard I’m used to from frequent interaction with the media. My friend indicated his optimism that sense would be seen and the interview would go ahead.
This enterprise concluded with an email from the contact person mentioned at the end of the litany of consents above as follows: Continue reading
The most interesting aspect of the reaction to the governor-general’s last Boyer lecture, with its last-sentence support for abolishing the monarchy, is the thinness of the opposition from the left to her expression of her political views.
As the events of the past few days have shown, in politics, to speak is to act. By lending even gentle support to the anti-monarchy cause, the governor-general has reopened the republic debate at least for a few days. It’s a more potent intervention given that the current prime minister once headed a successful push to retain the monarchy, and given that the current opposition leader is also the GG’s son-in-law.
I hope that the view remains strong on the left that an appointed head of state should not be a political player. In this view, the governor-general is supposed to work through and react to a checklist of constitutional questions and otherwise stay mute. One of the errors of Sir John Kerr back in the 1975 crisis was arguably that he gave in too easily to the temptation to become a political actor, instead of sticking to this mechanistic view of his role.
In short, the governor-general needs to be essentially a constitutional robot.
by Prashant Bharadwaj, Leah K. Lakdawala, Nicholas Li – #19602 (CH DEV)
While bans against child labor are a common policy tool, there is very little empirical evidence validating their effectiveness. In this paper, we examine the consequences of India’s landmark legislation against child labor, the Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986. Using data from employment surveys conducted before and after the ban, and using age restrictions that determined who the ban applied to, we show that child wages decrease and child labor increases after the ban. These results are consistent with a theoretical model building on the seminal work of Basu and Van (1998) and Basu (2005), where families use child labor to reach subsistence constraints and where child wages decrease in response to bans, leading poor families to utilize more child labor. The increase in child labor comes at the expense of reduced school enrollment. We also examine the effects of the ban at the household level. Using linked consumption and expenditure data, we find that along various margins of household expenditure, consumption, calorie intake and asset holdings, households are worse off after the ban.
The paper is here.
Schumpeter’s two chapters on democracy in his great book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy provide the best framework I know of articulating the things that trouble me about the current state of democracy.
The chapters assert the following propositions:
- Rousseau’s idea of the will of the people is an illusion for the simple reason that that will is distilled from a chaos of conflicting interests.
- Democracy arrives at decisions by way of a process by which factions of the political class vye for the consent of the governed.
- When considering politics, people are in a highly abstract world that’s usually far from their own concrete experience. They also know that their own singular vote amongst millions gives them an infinitesimal chance of influencing political outcomes. So their practical knowledge and their incentive to exercise care are both gravely diminished compared to situations where they are making decisions about their own welfare. This invites voting which is at least as much expressive as it is deliberative. In Schumpeter’s words, “In politics the typical citizen . . . argues and analyses in a way which he would readily recognise as infantile within the sphere of his real interests. He becomes a primitive again. His thinking becomes associative and affective”. Schumpeter draws attention to the similarities between this and the process by which advertising is addressed to manipulating the unconscious.
- In all things organisational, whether from the Federal Government to the local tennis club, a division of labour is necessary for the organisation to function effectively. Schumpeter puts it this way. ”Collectives act almost exclusively by accepting leadership — this is the dominant mechanism of practically any collective action which is more than a reflex.”. Schumpeter thus grafts the idea of leadership onto this division of labour and perhaps he is right that one needs leadership, but one doesn’t even need anything as strong as that to make the point. We need a division of labour. And that calls for delegation. Right now I am reliably informed that the polity is in the lengthy process of investigating how to deal with Food Derived from Reduced Lignin Lucerne Line. I’m thinking we need delegation here. Getting us all to come up with an opinion on Alan Jones show just won’t cut the mustard. Thus we have any number of agencies in our society that do this kind of stuff, or advise governments and all the rest of it. But the people remaining sovereign have the power to overrule their delegates. That’s as it should be. But if the thing is going to function tolerably the people need to give due regard to the fact that they don’t know the details – the people we delegated the issues to know the details.
Alas as time has passed since Joseph Schumpeter shared his dyspeptic but insightful thoughts with us, two things have been exacerbating the tensions in this system. Continue reading