“Rethinking Economics”

I enjoyed this EconTalk podcast with guest Maeve Cohen, about rethinking economics.

I also think there is much room to improve economics education.

Maybe there could a little less emphasis on how to calculate GDP and more discussion on the implications of a ‘incentives matter,’ for example.

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A good Thanksgiving podcast & book

I highly recommend listening to this week’s EconTalk podcast with guest A.J. Jacobs.

He and host, Russ Roberts, discuss Jacobs’ new book, Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey.

The book is about Jacobs’ experiences in attempting to thank all the folks who make his morning cup of coffee possible.

He starts at his favorite coffee shop and works back to thank the folks who deliver the coffee to the store, roast it, keep the store pest free, grow the coffee and even the folks that create the safe drinking water that makes up over 98% of his morning joe, to name a few.

The book is another take on the economic classic essay, I, Pencil, which explores the amazing coordination among large numbers of people who make something as mundane as pencils.

At the end of the podcast, Jacobs recommends being as creative as possible this Thanksgiving when considering what you are grateful for.

I, for one, am thankful for the price system, which enables the coordination among billions of folks and encourages them to make things that improve my life, like pencils and coffee.

Another good bit of advice that Roberts and Jacobs discuss is looking for the good. Russ recalled a bumper sticker, “Wag more. Bark less.”

Jacobs said he finds he has an inner Larry David and inner Mr. Rogers. Larry David looks for things to be annoyed about it. Mr. Rogers looks for things to be happy about and grateful for. He tries to encourage the inner Mr. Rogers more and good things happen.

Here’s a political movement I can support

More than 62 percent of California residents vote YES to have Daylight Savings Time year-round

It just makes a lot sense. I’ll take my daylight in the day, please.

Putting the cart before the horse: a ‘signal or cause’ saying

Have you ever heard someone say, “I need to buy a treadmill so I can get in shape.”

After a few months, these treadmills go unused and collect dust.

“But, I know people who stay fit and they have treadmills.”

Those people stay in shape because they have made exercise a priority. The treadmill is a signal of their priority, not the cause of it.

If you want to get in shape, you first have to make exercise a priority. That can be done without a treadmill.

Buying the treadmill first is putting the cart before the horse.

The consistently fit buy the treadmill as a supplement to their exercise routine — not as the centerpiece of it. It’s used on rainy or busy days to keep their priority.

I saw a tweet recently calling for building 600,000 futsal courts in the U.S. to give kids more places to play pickup soccer.

I agree that lack of pickup soccer is a key problem with soccer in the U.S., but building the courts before soccer is being widely played, informally, is putting the cart before horse.

The tweeter sees futsal courts in soccer-playing countries and thinks that’s the key to getting more kids playing.

Those futsal courts are a signal of a soccer-playing culture, not the cause of it.

My town has two street hockey courts that haven’t seen action since the 90s when that fad faded away. Simply having the courts doesn’t motivate anyone to play street hockey.

They sit there unused like the treadmill collecting dust.

More futsal courts will come when parks and rec directors see kids all over their town playing soccer in driveways, backyards and parks.

In fact, two areas in my metro area have futsal courts where a lot of pickup soccer is played. Those areas are rich in soccer-playing cultures from soccer-playing countries.

Signal or cause?

I heard about this study about how attaining the American Dream may be influenced by your neighborhood in the news.

This part caught my attention:

Chetty found, according to NPR’s Morning Edition, that if a person moves out of a neighborhood with worse prospects into to a neighborhood with better outlooks, that move increases lifetime earnings for low-income children by an average of $200,000. But moving a lot of people is impractical, so researchers instead are trying to help low-performing areas improve, according to Morning Edition.

I find it surprising that the suggestion to move a lot of people is discounted for being impractical.

It should be discounted for confusing a signal with a cause.

I heard a good analogy on an episode of EconTalk podcast once (I believe) that illustrates the slip up:

Since wealthy people vacation in Monaco, you should vacation in Monaco if you want to become wealthy.

Vacationing is Monaco is the signal of being wealthy, not the cause, vacationing there isn’t likely to make you wealthy.

Likewise, parents moving to neighborhoods with better outlooks may be a signal of what produces those better outlooks, not the cause.

A hypothesis to consider is that the values parents instill in their children is the biggest contributor to producing better outlooks.

That may show up at the neighborhood level because parents tend to move to neighborhoods where other parents share their values.

If true, then moving folks to better outlook neighborhoods or recreating other signals of those neighborhoods in worse prospect neighborhoods may not be effective ways to produce better outlooks.

Personal Preference Bias

The researchers of this study say that the kids picked last in gym class do not exercise as much as adults, possibly due to the emotional scars of being left out.

Maybe they were picked last in gym class because they, and their families, were not interested in physical activity and sports to begin with.

They experienced less volume of physical activity outside of gym class and hadn’t built as much competency as others who had been more active.

I’m guessing it’s that lack of interest for physical activity that carried into adulthood.

I doubt being more inclusive in gym class will change how active they are as adults.

I’m also guessing the emotional scars of being picked last aren’t as big as the researchers are making out. Most of us have experienced at some point.

If you are interested in the sport, that might be the feedback you need to work harder.

If you’re not interested, you tend not to care much.

Think that’s a stretch? Consider a a topic that doesn’t interest you, like the accordion.

Would you be scarred if you got last chair in accordion band? No.

Would you be more likely to play the accordion as an adult if you had been given a higher chair over someone who was better at the accordion than you?

Not likely. You’d see through the farce.

Folks are drawn to the accordion or not.

If you were forced to take an accordion class, you’d do the minimum to get through it.

The problem with studies like the gym class study above is that the researchers value physical activity, themselves, and they project their preference on everyone else.

I call that personal preference bias.

If you aren’t active, researchers assume it must be for some fixable reason.

Maybe you just don’t share their preferences.

Maybe the better answer is to let the kids who aren’t interested in gym do something else, if they’d like to.

Personal preference bias is common in public policy. Studies on education, for example, suffer from it and it clouds their judgement just like above.

The biggest problem in education isn’t schools or funding or teaching methods. Those things have long not been obstacles.

The biggest problem is some folks simply do not value education (or at least, one-size-fits-all, K-12 college prep + sports life education) as much as others do.

To them, school is like that accordion class that you don’t want to take. They just want to do the minimum to get through it and then get on with life.

The case for juggling (a soccer ball)

I run into a surprising number of soccer folks who don’t think juggling helps you become a better soccer player.

Their logic is always: “You don’t juggle in a game, so you’ll be better off practicing the stuff you use.”

That’s too simple. Though juggling isn’t used in the game, it has lots of benefits.

Juggling trains you to use your whole body to control the ball and improves your ability to read and react to it. It also reduces your chance of injury*.

Engaging your whole body and enhancing your ability to read and react to the ball improves all aspects of ball control — 1st touch, passing, dribbling, shooting, winning 50/50s and tackling.

It trains you to use your whole body by training you to stay in the athletic position and light on your toes, which is the position most conducive to good juggling.

Watch someone with juggling experience stop a ball.

They have a good touch.

They tend to move their whole body a little bit to absorb the ball’s momentum, rather than just sticking their foot out and having it bounce off.

When they are a really practiced, that whole body movement is barely perceptible, but it’s there.

The athletic position is when you could snap a photo facing the player and draw a rectangle that intersects shoulders, hips, knees and toes. I call this being in your box.

I think this position may help reduce chance of injury because it more evenly distributes game forces across your whole body.

Extending outside “the box” cause forces to concentrate into small areas of your body, like your joints or hamstrings.

Play the tape back on many injuries and you will see the injured player was reaching outside their “box”.

The athletic box position also helps you leverage your body weight and core strength, improving ball your touch, control, strength of tackles and power on shots.

Pay close attention to a well-executed bicycle kick. You will see the player does a back flip while maintaining the athletic position, driving all of his or her body weight and core strength through the ball.

Even good headers come from a player in the athletic box position.

Juggling has all these benefits, plus once you get decent at it, it becomes a more fun way to pass the time and it can be done just about anytime and anywhere.

Juggling is not the only thing players need to do to become complete. But, players who don’t juggle won’t reach their potential and may increase their chances of injury.

Juggling can be learned at any age.

In soccer-playing cultures, it’s common for players learn before age 8 and not remember when they couldn’t juggle.

I was lucky enough to learn to juggle in my 40s because I got to experience all the improvements above as my juggling improved, so I could tell you about it.

Had I learned it when I was 8, I may never had made those connections.

*A side note on injuries: I recall reading years ago about a study that showed that the ‘quickest’ (over short distance) players tended not to make it to the top of the game due to their propensity of getting injured. The hypothesis was that fast twitch muscles are more susceptible to injury than slow twitch muscles.

I have another theory. The quickest players tend to rely on their speed and they don’t put in as much effort to develop their ball skills, which in turns leads them to not maintaining the athletic box position.

It seems like there are more quick and skilled players coming in the top levels of the game like Vardy, Mbappe and Pulisic. Perhaps the skill work they have put in, including juggling, has helped train them to stay in the athletic box position and stay healthy.