Posts tagged ‘Larry Summers’

Irony and the New Fed Chairman -- Progressives Support Continued Excess Financial Profits for the 1%

I have a column up at Forbes on Monday discussing the irony of how progressives, in opposing Larry Summers as Fed Chairman, have essentially made common cause with the 1%, who opposed Summers because they feared that he might end the quantitative easing gravy train for the financial markets.

The Problem With Affirmative Action

Janet Yellen may soon be a victim of affirmative action.  I know that sounds odd, but I think it is true.

To preface, I have no preferences in the competition to become the next head of the Federal Reserve, and assume that Janet Yellen and Larry Summers are equally qualified.   I don't think the immense power the Fed has to screw with the economy can be wielded rationally by any individual, so it almost does not matter who sits in the chair.  Perhaps someone with a bit less hubris and a little more self-awareness would be better with such power, which would certainly mitigate against Summers.

But Yellen has a problem.  When this horse race first emerged in the press, many in the media suggested that Yellen would be a great choice because she was a woman, and qualified.  Most of the press coverage centered (probably unfairly given that she does seem to be quite qualified) on her woman-ness.  This leaves Yellen with a problem because many people were left with a first impression that the reason to choose her was primarily due to her having a womb, rather than her economic chops.

This is the downside of affirmative action.

We're Sorry, Larry

Larry Summers caught a lot of grief for a statement that has been oft-misreported:

"It does appear that on many, many different human attributes- height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability - there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means - which can be debated - there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population."

Carpe Diem brings this chart, visit the link for more explanation.

Personally, I don't have a lot of problems with the gender hypothesis, but I am skeptical of our ability to test intelligence.  I think most of us in the real world have enough experience to understand that the people we meet have a range of cognitive abilities, but I am not sure it is even possible to put a number on this, particularly since my experience is that there are many categories of intelligence and intelligence in one area is not intelligence in another.  Besides, I think most IQ tests are dominated by logic problems where one's ability to solve them improves with practice and training -- but this is counter to the idea we are somehow testing some property separate from education or training.

Update: As to the idea of different intelligences, I will offer myself as an example.  In my prime, I was pretty freaking good at advanced math, and later in life I got pretty good at deconstructing business problems that were pretty complex.  But I can't spell my way out of a paper bag, and I have a horrendous proof-reading ability (as all my readers will know by now).  I can stare at text over and over and still miss obvious errors.  I have a fabulous memory for concepts and problem-solving approaches, and I can recite the entirety of Monty Python and the Holy Grail from memory, but have almost no ability to retain a name, date, or phone number.

Can Entrepeneurship Survive at Harvard?

Its pretty clear that open academic discourse is on life support at Harvard in the wake of the recent Larry Summers vote of no confidence.  Now, there is a question about whether simple entrepreneurship can survive.   Via Cafe Hayek, several Harvard students created dormaid to provide maid services to dorm students that wanted to pay for it.  Seemed like a great idea to me, which I would have loved at school, but the Harvard student magazine has hammered the entrepreneurs:

By creating yet another differential between the haves and have-nots on
campus, Dormaid threatens our student unity.... We urge the student
body to boycott Dormaid

Socialism has been rejected by countries around the world.  It seems like it is still alive and well at Harvard.  Here is the angst coming through of a frustrated top-down Stalinist planner:

A service like Dormaid can bring many levels of awkwardness into this
picture. For example, do two people sharing a double split the cost?
What if one wants the service and the other does not? What if one
cannot afford it? Hiring someone to clean dorm rooms is a convenience,
but it is also an obvious display of wealth that would establish a
perceived, if unspoken, barrier between students of different economic

Here is the Cafe Hayek response:

This episode is too typical. An enterprising soul perceives a need
and creatively offers a product or service -- at his own financial risk
-- to satisfy that need. Everything is voluntary. No one is forced to
buy the service; no one is forced to work for it. But well-read
ignoramuses, infatuated with their own imaginary higher capacity for
caring for others, viscerally react against commercial exchange. In
this case, those opposed to Dormaid worry that because some but not all
students will find it worthwhile to buy maid service, "inequality"
among the Harvard student body will increase.

Is the typical Harvard student so immature that he suffers envy when
some of his fellow students buy maid service that he chooses not to
buy? (Bonus question for economics students: Why did I say "that he
chooses not to buy?" rather than "that he can't afford?")  Is he so
sensitive, so very, very tender, that he loses emotional stability at
the sight of a friend's dorm room freshly cleaned by maids?  Is he so
intellectually and socially inept that he can't work out an amicable
arrangement with his roommate if one wants to use Dormaid and the other
prefers not to do so?

Read the rest - Cafe Hayek has links to the original Harvard Crimson article.  I will tell you that my roommates would have been fine if I had used this service in college.  In fact, I was such a mess that they might have paid for it for me!


I'm Confused by this Diversity Thing

For years, women at Harvard argued there needed to be more women on the faculty to support "diversity".  I have always thought that diversity meant that you had a lot of difference - in this case different kinds of people with different skills.  Now, Larry Summers is getting attacked by the female faculty for implying that women are, uhh, perhaps different from men.  Women are insisting that there is no justification for even studying the question of whether women are different than men.  They maintain that women are the same, no argument allowed.  But if they are the same, how is hiring more women contributing to diversity?

My guess is that the comeback of those involved is that women don't have a genetic difference from men, but they have a difference in perspective (political, philosophical, etc).  There are two obvious problems with this:

  • If what universities are really trying to achieve is a diversity of background, perspective, and political/philosophical viewpoints then why don't they hire for and measure diversity based on background, perspective, and political/philosophical viewpoints, rather than the imperfect proxy of black/white, man/woman, etc.
  • And, If what universities are really trying to achieve is a diversity of
    background, perspective, and political/philosophical viewpoints -- they are doing a really crappy job, because universities are pretty dang homogeneous, at least in political viewpoint as compared to the population.

By the way, I was initially negative to Summer's comments myself here.  I still support my criticism that as a leader of a leading, in fact uniquely influential, educational institution, he has an obligation to his institution to be careful what he says.  A CEO today who speaks his mind on political issues is not only ill-advised, but may actually be violating his/her fiduciary responsibility by bringing public censure on the company's shareholders.

However, that said, the degree of hysteria over Summer's comments is mind-boggling, especially when you read what he actually said in context rather than just accept the media summary (basically, he did not say that men were better at math on average than women, he said that men MAY have a higher standard deviation in their skills, leading to a disproportionate number of men being both dolts and geniuses at math and science).  To some extent, the women driving this hysteria actually seem to be publicly reinforcing stereotypes of women being delicate (some silly woman actually said she almost fainted at Summer's remarks)  overly emotional (given their hysterical reaction) and, ironically enough, non-scientific (given the fact that no one has thought to take on Summers scientific query with facts rather than political intimidation).

In my experience, a confident mature woman can make the average man feel bumbling and childish, and have an ability to rise above the fray to bring sanity to a confused situation.  Why can't the grown-ups among the female gender be heard in such arguments? Never mind, the first sentence answers the second.  Besides, I think most confident intelligent women are giving up on woman's organizations anyway.