I know I took the notion of optimising to heart as I learned it – implicitly – from my economist Dad. And there are those who might argue that the idea in economics came from the society around economists as the discipline came into being.
But now it seems optimising as the heart of life seems to have become ubiquitous. I just ran into a tweet which proudly displays the graphic to the left.
I also know that the advice, such as it is, embodied in the accompanying graphic is fair enough. A bit of prudence about life. One could do a lot worse. (Then again, is it not pretty obvious? Graphics induce a kind of ‘fake’ aha I’ve found – something I confess to exploiting in my own rhetorical tricks during presentations) But at the level of advice there’s also something strangely anodyne and sad about it as an embodiment of aspiration.
Traditional notions of how one might decide on one’s path in life or one’s career – at least since the rise of modern times and the idea of the self as a self-creation, it’s been pretty de rigueur to at least pay some lip service to following one’s heart or more recently, and more crassly, one’s dream. More dourly, Protestant ethics teach a kind of surrender to one’s ‘calling’. Each of these has the texture of life as an adventure and a story in which basic values are the foundation – one build’s on the rock to invoke Christian imagery – including bearing the burden of suffering in pursuit of one’s goal.
Even Maslow’s hierarchy suggests that, though one pays most attention to ‘the basics’, truth to oneself involves working up to ‘higher’ things. (I’ve always thought it wide of the mark by the way as things at the top of the hierarchy seem to turn up very early in human history and in many ways were more powerful influences in civilisations in which the vast bulk of people were pretty much at subsistence – but I digress).
In any event today alongside the hashtags “#Brand” and “#You” the tweet which brandished this insight into life, we lean in and regard our ultimate task as having it all. Even in the anodyne graphic, I’d have liked to see doing what one loves as being more important than being paid well, but there you go, though I’m all for it being important.
I just came across this largely trivial cultural skirmish. Obama said “I promise you, folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.” In fact from the transcript you can see him, Eddie Maguire like thinking that he’s ‘misspoke’ as they say. In any event he sent off a dignified apology lacking the cant and bullshit normally associated with such ‘damage control’.
[A]ccording to University of Texas art history professor Ann Collins Johns, Obama has officially apologized for his remarks, sending her this handwritten letter:
Let me apologize for my off-the-cuff remarks. I was making a point about the jobs market, not the value of art history. As it so happens, art history was one of my favorite subjects in high school, and it has helped me take in a great deal of joy in my life that I might otherwise have missed.
So please pass on my apology for the glib remark to the entire department, and understand that I was trying to encourage young people who may not be predisposed to a four year college experience to be open to technical training that can lead them to an honorable career.
It’s a nice simple and clear letter. I also like the fact that he didn’t defend the economic value of art history.
What’s in a name? In the September 2013 round of re-shuffles, I count no less than 17 changes in names of government departments in Australia, either by some name disappearing or some name changing.
This appears to be a regular game in Canberra. When I worked in Canberra in 2003, there was FaCS (Department of Family and Community Services). Since then, there have been FACSIA (Dept Of Families, Community Services & Indigenous Affairs), FAHCSIA (Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs), and DSS (Department of Social Services). Similarly, we now have DE (Department of Education) whereas we used to have DEEWR (Department of Education, Employment and Workforce Relation), which itself preceded DEST (Department of Education, Science and Training).
Please help me out here, you knowledgeable Troppodillians in Canberra. What is going on with all these name changes? Is someone making money off changes in the stationary?
My confusion partly stems of noticing that some departments change what they do, but keep the same name through the decades. The Treasury comes to mind, which seemingly hasn’t changed its name for 100 years, but has seen major changes in what it does. It has now and then housed bits of the tax office, and currently has responsibilities that didn’t even exist when it was first set up (like retirement income arrangement). Why hasn’t the Treasury changed its name to reflect these changes. We might have then had such exotic specimens as the Department of Taxation, Efficiency, Retirement, Revenue, and Other Regulation. Similarly, the Department of Defence seems to have kept its name ever since 1942, whilst it now has responsibilities it could not have had at the start (missiles, counter-terrorism).
So some kind of game seems to be occurring in Canberra that means some general areas witness continuous upheavals in names, and other areas do not. I truly have no idea what the underlying economics and politics of that game is. Do you know the answer?
OK so you all kind of know this, but I’m going to go out on a limb and just put it out there as one younger member of my family has been heard to say. It’s depressing how much stuff is sent our way which repackages what’s already in the ether – stuff we already know, indeed stuff we may have grown up knowing, which is then fed back to us as AMAAAZING new insights into our contemporary world. You’ll laugh, you’ll gasp, you’ll savour those ‘aha’ moments – NOT.
This is the profundification of the commonplace.
The TED Talk above is on a subject that’s dear to my heart. It’s on the over-reliance on experts, the way experts can worship their paradigm and ignore what’s pretty obvious, and in the process tyrannize the wisdom of the lifeworld. I’ve even written whole essays on subject suggesting some possible ways to tackle the problem. So you’d think I’d love a TED Talk on that subject, especially since I agree with it.
Now I’m not expecting rocket science. I know that this is retail speechifying. The speaker is trying to explain ideas about which they’ve thought for some time to people for whom it may have no special significance. They need to be engaged and, dare I say it entertained. That’s as it should be. But lots of talks like that can be really interesting. I’m sure you can point us to some in comments. (On a second run through this I offer this TED talk as an illustration).
But really, having endured the hokeyness of the introduction, gritting my teeth thinking “this is the price of her TED Talk, this person will know something or say something of interest, perhaps compellingly, with cool illustrations” it turns out there is virtually no there there. Just the rehearsal of platitudes we already know – plus the obligatory reference to a brain scan. (Having invested in the technology, Troppo is scanning your brain as you read this and in the future you can be the first to learn the amazing fact to which our research will lead simply by staying tuned to Troppo.) Continue reading
This is an experiment in occasional linkage to insights that might outlast the daily news cycle. If you find any of it interesting, let us know in the comments.
Five reasons why 2013 was the best year In human history (Think Progress) – Summary: Even in many poor countries we have fewer early deaths, growing life expectancies, declining extreme poverty, rising happiness, fewer wars, less violent crime, big drops in unwarranted discrimination of all sorts. “721 million fewer people lived in extreme poverty ($1.25 a day) in 2010 than in 1981, according to a new World Bank study.”
- Massive review reveals consensus on GMO safety (Real Clear Science) – “The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops.” From a systematic review of 1,783 research papers, reviews, relevant opinions, and reports published between 2002 and 2012. Opponents of GM food increasingly looks like the left’s version of global warming sceptics.
- The growing Australian medical tourism market (ABC) – Rising numbers of the Southeast Asians middle class coming to Australia for advanced treatments such as robotic surgery, in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatments and cancer care.
- Apple passes Microsoft (Ben Evans) – Technology analyst Benedict Evans notes that “… in Q4 2013 the number of computers sold by Apple was larger than the number of Windows PC sold globally. If you add Windows Phone to the mix they’re more or less exactly equal.” Just five years ago Apple’s OSs weren’t shipping on a tenth as many devices as Windows. (Actually Evans is probably a couple of quarters early in calling the “passing” point, but whatever.) Of course, Android passed them both sometime in the past two years. And then there’s this company, both weird and relentless …
- Why the Winter Olympics are in Sochi (The Economist) – ”Sochi was chosen mainly because it is a favourite playground of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president. He spends much time at his Sochi residence and intends the games to be seen as proof of his mastery over nature and a symbol of his international legitimacy. Yet the choice is, ironically, entirely apt in one respect. Since Soviet times Sochi has had a reputation as a brash and seedy resort, a hotspot for holiday sex and a place where black-marketers and underground entrepreneurs from across the Soviet Union spent their not-always-honestly-earned roubles.”
- Yes, you can do experiments to see whether evolution is true (ScienceBlogs) – Researchers at Michigan State University have been watching E. coli evolve the ability to eat citrate, among other things. “After 33,127 generations Lenski and his students noticed something strange in one of the colonies …”
- Paul Hogan’s Oscar speech (Youtube) – Since the Oscars are coming … Hogan never won, but he did give a speech, and it was a beaut. Has there ever been a more easygoing, less anxious and angst-ridden comedian than Hoges in ordinary-bloke mode? And can someone please resurrect his style?
- Felix Salmon reckons news has a great future in a social world (Reuters) –Latest in a fine series. “We’re at an excitingly early stage in working out how to best produce and provide news in a social world. There are lots of business models that might work; there are also editorial models that look like they work until they don’t. But if you look at the news business as a whole, rather than at individual companies, it’s almost impossible not to be incredibly optimistic.” I need to re-read this the next time I’m down to lecture to journalism students.
Alan Greenspan says asset price bubbles are hard to spot (Harvard Business Review) – Read it all for some profound thoughts about finance, including the problems with letting financial firms be corporations. And the mere fact that you don’t like him doesn’t mean he’s wrong:
“You can spot a bubble. They’re obvious in every respect. But it is impossible for the majority of participants in the market to call the date when it blows …
“Every day for most of the period from, let’s say late 1980s, basically, through the end of my term, I would get almost every week people predicting that the world was coming to an end. That the economy was going to crash. ‘There are imbalances. There’s too much debt. There’s too much speculation.’ After a while you begin to say that this stuff is random …
“When [Eugene] Fama and [Robert] Shiller got the Nobel, in the New York Times, they have Fama saying about Shiller’s forecast of a decline in housing prices, ‘Aw yeah, he’s been saying that for years.’ … Even if you believe it, you shouldn’t say that. I mean it’s un-nice in the extreme. But the problem is it’s true.”
Having half-expected every year since 1999 that house prices would start declining – and having been wrong almost every time – I see Greenspan’s point. My first year involved in financial markets was 1987, at the end of which Greenspan and his global colleagues staged a highly effective post-bubble monetary easing. No wonder he thought bubbles were best handled after they burst.
- Life as a video game: the strategy guide (Oliver Emberton) – ”Most importantly, successful players put their time into the right things. Later in the game money comes into play, but your top priority should always be mastering where your time goes.”
- The shortlist for the Sony World Photography Awards is out – Just click. It is well known that the world’s three most photogenic non-human creatures are tree frogs, orangutangs and praying mantises, but this year’s shortlist shows wildebeest have their moments too.
- Joshua Gans and Stephen King are re-releasing Finishing the Job for free (Core Economics) – Exploration of Australian policy issues in health, housing, education and transport by two of our finest public policy thinkers. As far as I can recall, the issues discussed are mostly unresolved since the book’s original release, so you’ll get a bargain.
- Alain de Bouton explains The Philosophers’ Mail (The Spectator) – A tabloid website written by philosophers, and far weirder than that description makes it sound. Perhaps not his best idea ever, but certainly, um, different. “If we are going to be interested en masse in the poor international test scores, we need to take our fragilities on board and therefore get serious, very serious, about trying to make important news not just ‘important’, but also beguiling – almost as tempting to hear about as Taylor [Swift]’s legs.” Actual website here.
- Turn away from comparison by turning off Facebook (Daily Dish) – I long ago tired of claims that social media is something unprecedented. Teenage kids used to spend hours on the phone before the Internet came along; Victorian-era diary entries consist in large part of entries shorter than 146 characters. But I do wonder whether Facebook can encourage an unhealthy fixation on measuring ourselves against others. “Facebook … plays into some very unpleasant human social characteristics, foremost the temptation to evaluate one’s own worth based on a comparison with others: what they have, what they do, where they holiday, etc. It is a profoundly unspiritual experience.”
- Photography is fine (xkcd)
It may not prove much, or rather it proves the obvious – that stuff that makes its way between two pieces of land tends to take place over the sea - but it’s kind of fun.
This paper argues that openness to new, unconventional and disruptive ideas has a first-order impact on creative innovations-innovations that break new ground in terms of knowledge creation. After presenting a motivating model focusing on the choice between incremental and radical innovation, and on how managers of different ages and human capital are sorted across different types of firms, we provide cross-country, firm-level and patent-level evidence consistent with this pattern. Our measures of creative innovations proxy for innovation quality (average number of citations per patent) and creativity (fraction of superstar innovators, the likelihood of a very high number of citations, and generality of patents). Our main proxy for openness to disruption is manager age. This variable is based on the idea that only companies or societies open to such disruption will allow the young to rise up within the hierarchy. Using this proxy at the country, firm or patent level, we present robust evidence that openness to disruption is associated with more creative innovations.
by Daron Acemoglu, Ufuk Akcigit, Murat Alp Celik. Paper here.