Missing Link Friday – 21 January 2011

Are older women a threat to productivity? Does higher education educate? Can you trust Google’s ngram viewer? And why are there so few Filipino restaurants? These are just a few of the questions raised in this week’s links.


Last week Richard Tsukamasa Green wondered Why are there so few Filipino restaurants? At Marginal Revolution Tyler Cowen’s readers were also intrigued. Roy writes that Filipino food is "probably among the most underappreciated cuisines in the world." But Barkley RosserB writes "Pollo adobo, the national Philippines dish, is frankly kind of boring." According to Riccardo, Filipinos do have some exciting dishes, but these tend to fall into two categories:

1. Things that are revolting to Western sensibilities (congealed blood, duck embryos, internal organ meat, etc).
2. Fresh seafood that is sometimes only available in tropical Asia.

Richard is reluctant to invoke preferences to explain the lack of Filipino restaurants. But Ricardo isn’t convinced that the supply side is the right place to look: "Filipinos are entrepreneurial enough that if there was a market for Filipino food in any given country, restaurants would be opening left and right."

At I’m going to write about that at my blog, Paul comes up a few quick explanations but remains unsatisfied. "I’ll ask my Nanay and come back with an answer" he promises.

Also on the subject of food, Maia at The Hand Mirror puzzles over "ridiculous masculinity" in advertising. How do you sell a girly product like yoghurt to New Zealand’s blokes? Watch the man-vertising at Mammoth Supply Co’s website and find out.

More ridiculous masculinity here.

Ladies of leisure?

"CLOSE to a million more mature women could be working but choose not to participate in the labour force," writes Christian Kerr in Tuesday’s Australian. Their decision is "adding to the danger of the ticking population time-bomb."

Mindy at Hoyden About Town thinks there’s a bit too much spin on this story. For a start there’s the language:

Ladies not women. Ladies suggests women sitting around daintily sipping cups of tea with little pinky fingers raised, obviously enjoying leisure time while others work to support them.

Perhaps these women aged 45 to 64 might be doing something useful that they’re not getting paid for, are looking for work or have a disability suggests Mindy.

The numbers come from Geoff Gilfillan’s and Les Andrews’ staff working paper for the Productivity Commission. They write:

The contribution of mature aged women (aged 45 to 64 years) to total hours worked in the economy by people of working age has increased from 6 to 15 per cent over the past three decades.

They also note that participation rates are likely to continue to rise as the population ages. This is because: "Younger women today have both higher levels of education and labour force participation than mature aged women had when they were younger."

And the value of education is …?

At the Economist’s Free Exchange blog R.A. of Washington discusses a new study on college education in the US. In Academically Adrift, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa draw on survey responses, transcript data, and test results. According to the publisher’s synopsis, their analysis of of more than 2,300 undergraduates at twenty-four institutions reveals:

45 percent of these students demonstrate no significant improvement in a range of skills—including critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing—during their first two years of college. As troubling as their findings are, Arum and Roksa argue that for many faculty and administrators they will come as no surprise—instead, they are the expected result of a student body distracted by socializing or working and an institutional culture that puts undergraduate learning close to the bottom of the priority list.

According to a review in Inside Higher Ed, it was students majoring in liberal arts who performed the best. The study’s authors report that they saw "significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study." Students majoring in business, education, social work and communications showed the smallest gains.

Arum and Roksa, liberal arts majors may do better because their teachers expect them to read and write more than students in other disciplines.

If higher education achieves so little, then why do employers continue to favour graduates wonders R.A. Why don’t employers just ask to see test scores rather than insisting on a degree?

Some firms should be able to find an advantage in going to top quality secondary schools and hiring graduates at some salary lower than what they’d pay a new college graduate but representing a major improvement in net financial position relative to full-time student status.

Something is amiss. And I have to believe that firms value something imparted by a college education that’s not captured by these assessments of learning.

Higher education and budget cuts

The Australian blogosphere’s higher ed expert Andrew Norton asks Will uni finances be washed away by the floods? "Higher education has long been near the top of the list when money needs to be saved" he writes, "And in recent times, higher education spending has been out of control."

In the UK Will Davies wrote about the prospect of funding late last year. In a post titled Michael Walzer and university cuts he worries that attempts to make the British higher education system more like America’s will produce something far worse:

… my fear is that Britain in the future will become like a Gary Becker fantasy, in which ‘human capital’ is entirely governed by a logic of return on investment, of universities selling the humanities in the same way that Thomas Cook sells the Maldives, of MBA-style rankings (based on average salary after graduation) infecting undergraduate education to the point where campuses are over-run with law and marketing students, while scholarship and intellectualism simply appear like monopolies to be broken up

Following Michael Walzer, Will argues that "there are multiple spheres of inequality in any society" and the "task is not to eradicate them, but to ensure that none trumps or determines all of the others." He worries that even if Britain’s academic sphere isn’t turned over to the market, it will succumb to the logic of the market. Rather than maintaining its own standards of good and bad and its own hierarchies of status, the top universities and the top academics will be those that dominate the ‘market for education’.

At Rortybomb, Mike Konczal agrees that Walzer’s ideas about equality deserve more attention. In Spheres of Justice, Walzer asserted: “No social good x should be distributed to men and women who possess some other good y merely because they possess y and without regard to the meaning of x”. Mike responds:

The contrapositive of Walzer’s definition is what interests me, which would roughly be nobody should be precluded a social good y because on their lack of possession of an unrelated good x. Inequality in education access, health care, life expectancy, quality of jobs are intrinsically linked to inequality in wealth and income with our poor levels of economic mobility in this country. Fairness and equality in our court and criminal justice system are largely a function of wealth. This economic stratification creates larger rigidities and barriers – some by accident, some by design – to further mobility and equality of opportunities in non-economic spheres. In this sense it can address control and power by the elite in a way that Rawls doesn’t, and in a way that we could use right now.

Google ngram

Bloggers are fascinated with Google’s new ngram viewer. At Catallaxy Rafe Champion checks the hits on his favourite thinkers and topics. But quickly runs into problems interpreting the results.

The ngram viewer has some serious limitations. At The Binder Blog, Natalie Binder has a series of posts explaining why you shouldn’t rely too much on Google’s new tool. One of the most frustrating is that Google often gets its dates wrong. In 2009 Language Log’s Geoff Nunberg wrote about the problem in a post titled: Google Books: A Metadata Train Wreck.

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Paul Amores
10 years ago

Hi, I’ve finally got around to writing up part 2 of my Filo restaurant post at Really? I’m going to write about that on my blog.
Thanks Richard – good stuff.