Preparation is key #2

From How Colleges Make Racial Disparities Worse by Richard Sander in the Wall Street Journal (I added the bold):

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia ignited a firestorm last week at oral arguments forFisher v. University of Texas, a case concerning that school’s affirmative-action policies. The media pounced after Justice Scalia suggested that it might be not be a bad thing if fewer African-Americans were admitted to the University of Texas. Many rushed to call the comments racist.

Subsequent reports clarified that Mr. Scalia had been invoking the “mismatch” hypothesis, which posits that students who receive large admissions preferences—and who therefore attend a school that they wouldn’t have gotten into otherwise—often end up hurt by the academic gap between them and their college peers. But on the whole even this coverage has spread confusion.

The mismatch theory is not about race. It is about admissions preferences, full stop. Mismatch can affect students who receive preferential admission based on athletic prowess, low socioeconomic status, or alumni parents. An important finding of mismatch research is that when one controls for the effect of admissions preferences, racial differences in college performance largely disappear. Far from stigmatizing minorities, mismatch places the responsibility for otherwise hard-to-explain racial gaps not on the students, but on the administrators who put them in classrooms above their qualifications.

Re: first passage in bold: As I mentioned in this post, preferential treatment can hurt anyone, it doesn’t depend on race.

Re: second passage in bold: If true, why isn’t that persuasive for folks who advocate watering down admissions, rather than bolstering preparation?

This also supports my hypothesis for #2 from this post. An author at thought that, “Top private colleges, though they enroll fewer black students, do a somewhat better job of helping them graduate.” I thought, perhaps, top private colleges just do a better job of admitting those who are properly prepared.


Matt Ridley on the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative

Matt Ridley regarding Zuckerberg and Chan’s gift.

Yep, I agree. And it’s interesting to see more info about some of the ideas Zuckerberg/Chan have in Ridley’s post. Like:

Zuckerberg thinks that “the only way to achieve our full potential is to channel the talents, ideas and contributions of every person in the world”. To that end he wants to get the four billion people who do not have access to the internet online. Through “” he is trying to find ways to use solar-powered drones flying at 60,000 feet and equipped with infra-red lasers to bring the internet to remote parts of the developing world where they could give farmers weather forecasts and crucial market information, plus a chance to educate their children.


Ridley also makes an important point about charitable foundations:

Yet most foundations start out effective and gradually become captured by political correctness and vested interests. The Rockefeller Foundation did a truly brilliant thing in the mid-20th century when it supported Norman Borlaug’s tireless efforts to breed high-yielding varieties of wheat in Mexico and then to get them adopted in India and Pakistan, thus sparking the “green revolution” that has brought billions out of hunger. Later in the century, it succumbed to fashionable dictums and failed to back Borlaug’s attempt to do the same for Africa, arguing that high-yielding crops might be bad for the environment. (Recently it has reversed again and joined the Gates Foundation in supporting agriculture in Africa.)

With this sort of history, it is little wonder that the young Zuckerbergs want to retain flexibility in deciding how their Chan-Zuckerberg initiative does good work.

He made a similar point about companies and countries in his book, The Rational Optimist. I wrote about that here and here.

Drugs and crazy?

What’s the cause of the relative recent increase in mass killings?

So far I’ve seen people name likely causes such as inequality, riot dynamics, guns, media, killings by cops and so forth.

I haven’t yet seen mention of prescription meds and reduction of mental institutions.

I believe I just saw on 60 Minutes last night that prescriptions for opioid-based medication has increased from several million in 1990 to over 200 million now. 200 million! 2/3rds of the country? Really?

I’d like to see some stats on crazy people. Seems like they used to get extended stays in mental institutions at a higher rate in the old days, but for lots of reasons (like mistreatment, funding and believing that crazy can get less crazy) that doesn’t happen as much anymore.

If you look at the mass killers, it does seem as though they are not of sound mind and I don’t find it plausible that inequality (or any of the other factors mentioned) caused them to lose their marbles.

Preparation is key

In Scalia Was Right About Race Preferences in the Wall Street Journal, Jason Riley writes (emphasis added):

During oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case concerning race-conscious college admission policies, Justice Scalia cited research that shows how racial preferences can handicap some black students by placing them in elite schools where they don’t have the same credentials of the average student and struggle academically.

Liberal public figures and media types promptly denounced the remarks. Democratic leader Harry Reid, ever the statesman, stood on the Senate floor Thursday and accused Justice Scalia of endorsing “racist theories.”

We live in a political environment where the intent of a policy aimed at helping minorities is all that matters; questioning the policy’s actual effectiveness is tantamount to racism. Our national debates about racial preferences tend to focus on their legality, not whether they work as intended. Yet both are important, and Justice Scalia is right to question the assumption that racial favoritism in college admissions has been a boon for blacks.

I’d add that is true of anyone given preferential treatment to be admitted to an elite school, or any school.

Certainly, when thrown into the fire, some people blossom and manage to overcome the ill preparation they received (incidentally often from the same people who advocate lower admission standards).

But, they could also blossom in the a second tier school and earn their way into an elite school.

If the desire is to get more of any group of people into selective schools, maybe the focus should be on properly preparing members of that group to be successful in those schools, rather than lowering the bar for them to get in and hoping they catch up to those who were prepared.

What would happen if pro and college sports teams lowered their standards to accept players of lower ability? Very few, if any, of the new athletes let onto those team would excel to the top. And, nobody would (does) buy tickets to watch adult rec league games.

But, lots of athletes could fulfill their dream of being a pro, for a short time, before the leagues go out of business.

Ignoring a piece of the pie

In The Uncounted Trillions in the Inequality Debate in the Wall Street Journal, Martin Feldstein points out that if the value of Social Security and Medicare were included, the net worth of the bottom 90% in the U.S. would go from $20 trillion to $95 trillion.

Here’s a slice from his opinion piece:

Individuals pay high payroll taxes—directly and through foregone wages—to finance the current system of pay-as-you-go retiree benefits. By my calculations, the implicit real rate of return on those payroll taxes will be less than 3%. That is substantially less than the 5.5% real return earned historically by contributions over a working life to an individual IRA or 401(k) plan invested in a balanced combination of stocks and high-quality bonds.

In other words, enact government programs to help the bottom 90%, yet ignore the value of those programs when measuring outcomes for the very thing they are intended to help.

Further, using that incomplete measure, these programs are contributing to inequality. As his example points out above, we come out 2.5% behind annually for every dollar that we pay into Social Security rather than investing in a 401k.

Yes, yes…but 401k returns aren’t guaranteed. So, come up with a safe government investment for those who are concerned about that.


Government does not handle diminishing returns well

Which performs betters, government or private? is always a lively discussion.

I believe private performs most things better, for many reasons. One reason is that it handles diminishing returns better.

Consider one example: School.

There is a belief that more school is better, always. Yet, we all know that’s not true or else we’d still be in school.

But government doesn’t know and it keeps pushing for more even when the value of more school to individuals and society no longer exceeds the cost.

Government has weak mechanisms to rationalize that diminishing return. “More is always better” sounds good to voters, so it gets votes.

Yet, when those same voters spend their own money on various things they constantly rationalize diminishing returns.

They get a lot of value from the first apple they put in their cart, a little less from the second and less still from the third. They don’t put the fourth apple in the cart because the value of the fourth does not exceed its cost. The value of the apples diminished with quantity.

The mechanism in this private transaction to rationalize the diminishing return is much stronger. The shopper only has so much money and can only eat so many apples. They don’t want to waste their money on apples that will end up rotting, especially when they can use their limited funds on other things that provide benefit above the cost.

There are weak mechanisms in government to deal with diminishing returns. Sometimes voters don’t buy the “more is always better” mantra. Unfortunately, that usually happens way too late, only after many apples have rotted.

And, sometimes governments fail outright (unfortunately taking down society or having to be replaced with other governments) because they are so far past the point where value exceeds the benefit, that they sucked up all the surplus resources in society trying to fulfill the “more is always better” belief.

Judge not, lest you be judged

From this article about Zuckerberg’s announced charity donations:

Yet there is a dark side to this trend. For behind it lies the sanctimonious hypocrisy of billionaires who build vast fortunes with firms that avoid the taxes paid by the rest of society, then arrogantly think they are best placed to solve the planet’s problems.

Zuckerberg talked in his letter of creating stronger communities. Yet Facebook, like too many technology behemoths, is a serial tax avoider undermining government through its stubborn refusal to pay its fair share to society.


As opposed to the self-righteous who think paying taxes is paying their fair share to society, but creating products that improve the lives of hundreds of millions, if not billions, is not?

Or, the arrogance of those who believe government is best suited to solve the planet’s problems when it’s track record shows something remarkably different (better luck next time)?

What exactly qualifies someone who can run a good election campaign to use other peoples’ money to solve problems? Convincing ill-informed voters do not bear the direct consequences of bad decisions they make at the voting booth does not uniquely qualify anyone to solve the planet’s problems.

To all self-absorbed narcissists, how about some thinking?

I’d like to see more of this. Props to Dr. Piper for being on the leading edge. From him:

Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic.

I find it dumb when kids are encouraged to get their voice heard and to make a difference, but are not encouraged to do their homework, think critically and try to understand their opposition’s argument before spouting their mouths off.

Do good stuff better with the market

Mark Zuckerberg and wife plan to donate much of their fortune to charity.

This news inspired Vox author, Dylan Matthews, to write about ways Zuckerberg could get the most bang for his charitable buck.

One striking omission from Matthew’s article: Invest in new ventures.

I wrote about that before herehere and here.

Zuckerberg and Chan’s letter is here.  There’s much to like. This is all good:

We must build technology to make change. Many institutions invest money in these challenges, but most progress comes from productivity gains through innovation.

We must participate in policy and advocacy to shape debates. Many institutions are unwilling to do this, but progress must be supported by movements to be sustainable.

We must take risks today to learn lessons for tomorrow. We’re early in our learning and many things we try won’t work, but we’ll listen and learn and keep improving.

This causes me some concern:

We must back the strongest and most independent leaders in each field. Partnering with experts is more effective for the mission than trying to lead efforts ourselves.

Thinking back to Zuckerberg’s early days in creating Facebook, would he have been better off simply backing the founders of MySpace and Friendster or going at the solution independently, like he did?

Creating his own solution worked.

Rather than trying to fix schools, for example, by backing the education bureaucracy that does a poor job in certain areas now, I’d rather give people more incentive and freedom to solve those areas.