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College is essentially worthless.

January 22, 2011 5 comments

Two reports came out this week showing that college is really just a big waste of time and money.

The first shows that after two years, college kids haven’t really learned much of anything.

Nearly half of the nation’s undergraduates show almost no gains in learning in their first two years of college, in large part because colleges don’t make academics a priority, a new report shows.

Instructors tend to be more focused on their own faculty research than teaching younger students, who in turn are more tuned in to their social lives…

After two years in college, 45% of students showed no significant gains in learning; after four years, 36% showed little change.

Students also spent 50% less time studying compared with students a few decades ago, the research shows.

The second report (both are really from the same book) shows that many college students aren’t learning any critical thinking skills what so ever. No wonder they are all liberal!

Many of the students graduated without knowing how to sift fact from opinion, make a clear written argument or objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event, according to New York University sociologist Richard Arum, lead author of the study. The students, for example, couldn’t determine the cause of an increase in neighborhood crime or how best to respond without being swayed by emotional testimony and political spin.

Only one word can be used to describe this, DUH!

I think the two things that are driving this are grade inflation and the money thrown at academia by government.

The grade inflation angle comes down to this. As grade get inflated higher and higher, employers can’t simply rely on a diploma or even a associate degree, as a measure of work potential. A HS diploma is worthless, they will give them to anyone as long as they go to class. So then employers look for a 4 year degree. As those have been going downhill, thanks to grade inflation, employers are going to be looking for Master’s degrees and higher to try to determine if the person is even worth all the time and capital required to bring someone on board. It’s not cheap to hire a new employee, especially for any technical field.

Schools are more than happy to spew out the paper for a bachelor’s degree. It’s easy money. Kids come to class if they want to, the professor has their grad students teach the class and grade papers and tests. The schools require all sorts of worthless classes in order to get a degree, none of which involve logic or reason anymore. The more classes the schools require means more student loan money in the schools coffers.

I’m sure if the schools could, they’d require 200 credits to graduate, all for the students best interests of course. /sarc

Now with the Federal Government handing out student loan money like it grew on trees, expect standards to get even worse.

Schools and academia are corrupt. Make no mistake that they are all motivated by money, just as everyone else is.

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Categories: Academia, Books, Inflation, Schools

This is why I love Google!

July 19, 2010 2 comments

Have I said how much I love Google lately? This picture shows why.

Krugman meet Hazlitt

Economics in One Lesson is a book by Henry Hazlitt, a self-educated libertarian economist.

Hazlitt wrote for a who’s who of American journals and newspapers; The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek (back before they turned into a Democratic Party propaganda machine), and Krugman’s own The New York Times. Ah if only Hazlitt were writing for the Gray Lady now, instead of Krugman!

The best part about an ad for Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson (EiOL) on Krugman’s NYT article is that EiOL is a hallmark of Austrian Economics. It’s pretty much required reading for anyone interested in Austrian economics. By the way you can get EiOL for free as pdf here.

Another irony is that Hazlitt wrote a line by line refutation of Keynes’ General Theory, titled The Failure of the New Economics. (Link is to a free pdf version.) As we know Keynes is the Krugman as Bacon is to the perfect cheeseburger, inseparable! John Chamberlain, editor of the Freeman, notes:

Mr. Hazlitt takes up the General Theory line by line and paragraph by paragraph, discovering scores of errors on almost every page. Not only does he kill Keynes; he cuts the corpse up into little pieces and stamps each little piece into the earth. The performance is awe-inspiring, masterly, irrefutable — and a little grisly. At times one almost feels sorry for the victim. But, since Keynesian doctrines have created so much misery in the world, any sympathy is misplaced. Hazlitt’s job had to be done.

Who at Google did this? Maybe the Machines are conscious and have a sense of humor. I don’t know.

At least this goes to show everyone that I do read Krugman. I feel dirty afterward but I still keep an open mind and I’m willing to read from those, whose views I fundamentally disagree. How often do you think Liberals do the same?

Wednesday is Hayek Day II: Julian Simon edition

So I was browsing the interwebs looking at Ehrlich-Simon sites because of the last post. I came across this page, www.juliansimon.com/reply-critics.html. Lo and behold I do find a mighty gem!

March 22, 1981

Dear Professor Simon,

I have never before written a fan letter to a professional colleague, but to discover that you have in your Economics of Population Growth provided the empirical evidence for what with me is the result of a life-time of theoretical speculation, is too exciting an experience not to share it with you. The upshot of my theoretical work has been the conclusion that those traditional rules of conduct (esp. of several property) which led to the greatest increases of the numbers of the groups practicing them leads to their displacing the others — not on “Darwinian” principles but because based on the transmission of learned rules — a concept of evolution which is much older than Darwin. I doubt whether welfare economics has really much helped you to the right conclusions. I claim as little as you do that population growth as such is good — only that it is the cause of the selection of the morals which guide our individual action. It follows, of course, that our fear of a population explosion is unjustified so long as the local increases are the result of groups being able to feed larger numbers, but may become a severe embarrassment if we start subsidizing the growth of groups unable to feed themselves.

Sincerely,

F.A.Hayek

Oh wait, there is one more!

Shimoda, Nov. 6, 1981
Dear Professor Simon,

… I have now at last had time to read [The Ultimate Resource] with enthusiastic agreement. So far as practical effect is concerned it ought to be even more important than your theoretical work which I found so exciting because it so strongly supports all the conclusions of the work I have been doing for the last few years. I do not remember whether I explained in my earlier letter that one, perhaps the chief thesis of the book on The Fatal Conceit, the first draft of which I got on paper during the past summer, is that the basic morals of property and honesty, which created our civilization and the modern numbers of mankind, was the outcome of a process of selective evolution, in the course of which always those practices prevailed, which allowed the groups which adopted them to multiply more rapidly (mostly at their periphery among people who already profited from them without yet having fully adopted them.) That was the reason for my enthusiasm for your theoretical work.

Your new book I welcome chiefly for the practical effects I am hoping from it. Though you will be at first much abused, I believe the more intelligent will soon recognize the soundness of your case. And the malicious pleasure of being able to tell most of their fellows what fools they are, should get you the support of the more lively minds about the media. If your publishers want to quote me they are welcome to say that I described it as a first class book of great importance which ought to have great influence on policy….

With best wishes,

Sincerely,

F. A. Hayek

I have to admit, I haven’t read Ultimate Resource II. It’s free here. With that kind of endorsement, I’m going to be putting it on my Nook here shortly!

Categories: Books, Hayek

I was off by a few months; Kindle now under $200

In my post about the iPad I mentioned that the competition would force Amazon to re-price the Kindle to sub $200 by November.

I was off by a few months, and wrong about the competitor.

The Kindle is now $189.

It was in response to Barnes and Noble dropping the price of the Nook (Wi-FI only edition) to $149, and Nook (Wi-Fi and 3G) to $199.

Now I know for sure that B&N unveiled the Wi-FI only Nook for $149, but not quite sure if the price drop of the original Nook happened before or after Kindle’s price drop. It doesn’t really matter at all, all that matters is that competition makes products cheaper for consumers.

This is Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” at work. Two companies competing for customers, acting in their own selfish interest (selling more units), benefiting consumers (lower price). Anyone with any semblance of economic literacy knew this was going to happen. So that probably leaves out most Liberals. =)

Of course I already bought a Nook a few months ago, which my wife promply took over. =) Maybe I’ll pick up a Kindle now too.

Categories: Books, Market Solutions

What are you reading?

June 17, 2010 2 comments

I have a few books on my plate right now.

Just picked up Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley.

I need to pick up Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Danial Okrent.

I’m also still reading The Black Swan by Taleb (Second time through, since I hadn’t read Fooled by Randomness when I read it the first time) Taleb added a new essay on robustness to the second edition, which you can find here.

And I’m still trying to plow through Elementary Lessons in Logic by William Stanley Jevons. It’s not an easy read at all, but will be worth it when I’m done with it.

What are you reading?

Categories: Books

Road to Serfdom number 1 on Amazon

I meant to publish this last week. =\

Hayek’s Road to Serfdom is number 1 on Amazon right now.

I’m a big Hayek fan, so I think this is a very ery good thing.

I didn’t realize Glenn Beck was pimping the book on one of his recent shows. But thank you Beck. The more people reading Hayek, the better.

With Beck giving the book it’s due, it’s going to be interesting to see how many bogus 1 star reviews are going to get posted by Leftists. Right now there are 8.

This is the newest one, dated…Today, June 9th.

All I know is what I’ve sampled on Amazon.com

However, The book in question, The Road to Serfdom, apparently is an anachronism. Book’s original title: Socialism, the Road to Serfdom. In the 1930’s, totalitarian and despotic GOVERNMENTS were the chief threat to personal liberty, and they still are in some places of the world, possibly Africa. The fall of the Soviet Empire signalled to me the end of the nation-state era.

Over the last quarter century or so it’s become evident that in the economically developed world, the threat to liberty is corporate interests. CORPORATIONS HAVE FOUND THE EASIEST ROUTE TO POWER: BUY IT. Not a new idea, certainly, but now practiced on a world dominating scale. Look at the standard of livng of the american worker which has steadily fallen since the Reagan Era.

America and the world may be waking up to the corporate threat after our wall street induced depression or the recent oil spill, but….????

Hayek’s thinking hadn’t changed much by his 1976 preface, and Glenn Beck (where I saw this tome waved about yesterday) and his kind are provide a major distraction. Anti-Socialism, Anti-Fascism, Anti-big government, etc. are all red herrings, but profitable grist for talk shows.

Notice how this reviewer hasn’t read the book? Typical leftists, as with the AZ law, they don’t read the underlying document before making their ideological rants.

My Mini Review of “Intellectuals and Society”

May 12, 2010 6 comments

I just finished listening to Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell. I bought the audio book, so I won’t be able to provide any actual quotes, so I’ll be paraphrasing. Since this isn’t for scholarship, but more for my own thoughts, quotes are not mandatory.

What is an Intellectual?

First things first, what is an “Intellectual?” I think Dr. Sowell’s definition fits rather well. An intellectual is a person whose end product is ideas. They don’t make anything. They merely repackage ideas, that mostly, came from someone else and present them to the public (public intellectual). Sowell uses that definition to make the distinction between an intellectual and someone of intellect; an engineer or medical doctor.

Since an engineer’s end product is something tangible, same as a medical doctor, they have some sort of feedback mechanism that weeds out the good from the bad. An engineer whose bridge falls in the river (Tacoma Narrows Bridge) finds them self out of a job and out of the profession. Same goes with a doctor or dentist, if they pull the wrong tooth or amputates the wrong limb too often, they will find themselves out of a job and out of money.  The same isn’t true of an intellectual.

Dr. Sowell makes the point that an intellectual is immune to the short and long run consequences of their end product. This is so obvious that it’s hard to notice it at times. How often are politicians, pundits etc called out for the consequences of their ideas? Almost never! Paul Erlich comes to mind for me. Erlich has written numerous books and essays  warning about unchecked population growth, a modern-day Malthusian. His 1968 The Population Bomb book proved to be big joke. Did the fact that just about everything he has said turned out to be wrong hurt his reputation? Nope, just take a look at his awards on the Wiki page.

While Sowell uses the early 20th century for examples, like Russell, Shaw, and Wells. These figures are almost unknown to the younger generation and probably most of the older generation as well. I think Sowell would have made a better point if he’d have used more modern examples, like Erlich, Sunstein, Krugman, etc. These are people we know and hear of today. Anyway, back to Erlich.

Erlich is a good example of what Sowell calls an intellectual for another reason, he is an expert in his field but makes pronouncement about things outside his field. Erlich is an entomologist whose expertise is in butterflies. Yet he thinks he knows enough to make pronouncement on human populations. Dr. Sowell says that this is because intellectuals confuse their expert knowledge with the mundane knowledge.

What is Knowledge?

A key aspect to knowing what makes an intellectual tick is the knowing how they view knowledge. Dr. Sowell states that there are two main types of knowledge, expert knowledge and mundane knowledge. Expert knowledge is just that, knowing a lot about a certain subject area. This can be in any field; economics, botany, chemistry, physics, mathematics etc. The part about expert knowledge that is key to me, is that it usually requires a marshaling of facts with a little bit of logic thrown in. I can be an expert in ancient Greek history, if I just read enough and memorize certain things. I can be an expert in Math, if I read enough and apply certain tools. Dr. Sowell goes a little farther, to say that intellectuals are usually very good in the field they are experts in. He uses the example of Chomsky. Chomsky knows things about linguistics that most other people will never know, that makes him an expert in his field. Chomsky also has the ability to create novel ideas about the area he is an expert in.

Mundane knowledge is just that, mundane. It’s collective knowledge, things that can’t be pinned down and things that usually come from experience. Mundane knowledge is like knowing what sound a car engine should sound like. While it might seem trivial, you put all those little trivial pieces of knowledge together and you get the vast majority of the knowledge that is out there. Dr. Sowell makes the point that it’s the mundane knowledge that is the driving force behind human society. This is very Hayekian. Which of course, I agree with 100%.

An intellectual is someone who confuses their own expert knowledge with the mundane knowledge, that makes the world work. They think that because they know a lot about a certain thing, that it translates into knowing a lot about everything. This is why Erlich thinks he can make judgment on population, why Chomsky thinks he should make political judgments, why Krugman thinks that his Nobel gives him room to make broad partisan political pronouncements, etc. This is the key difference between an intellectual and someone with intelligence. Clearly, Krugman et al are intelligent, but so is an engineer or a doctor. Yet you don’t see engineers going on and on about politics (usually at least not in the media). Yet when you do hear an engineer or doctor making broad political or social pronouncements outside of the field of expertise, it is because they are acting as intellectuals.

Another important aspect of knowledge that Dr. Sowell makes, is that the mundane makes up the vast majority of total knowledge in the world, 90%. I think it’s more than that, on the order of 99.9% But that’s just me. The point is, that it’s impossible for one person or even a group of people to fully comprehend and understand what goes on in society. It’s the flaw that dooms all planners, since planners are intellectuals. Dr. Sowell uses the example of the USSR, who had no shortage of experts. Yet, their endless panel of experts could not make their economy work. When here in the US (for the most part) thousands and thousands of people, with  a far lower level of expertise in any given field than the USSR planner, armed only with mundane knowledge and experience produced the greatest economy in the 20th century. Again this is very Misian and Hayekian, the Socialist Calculation Debate.

Incentives

Incentives matter. I don’t care who you are, I’m a firm believer that no one does anything for free. There is always a motive. So what are the incentives for the intelligentsia? What makes them tick?

Same as everyone else they are not a different breed of human, as much as they might tell you or want to think of themselves as. They want money, power and prestige. Since intellectuals only deal in ideas and they are immune to the consequences of those ideas, they are free to pursue anything that tickles their fancy regardless of any harm it might entail. Again, I think of Erlich, who in his book Population Bomb discussed “compulsory birth regulation… (through) the addition of temporary sterilants to water supplies or staple food. Doses of the antidote would be carefully rationed by the government to produce the desired family size.” Sounds eerily familiar to John Holdren’s comments, who is Obama’s science adviser.

Intellectuals like Erlich make a lot of money doing what they do. It’s not hard to see why, simple supply and demand. People of all types want to hear things that appeal to their a priori biases. Since intellectuals deal in abstract ideas, that can’t be verified, they are more than willing to provide the ideas that people want to hear. This is better understood in the context of news media. Republicans want to hear things filtered through their own constrained vision, so they listen to Fox who is more than happy to give the people what they want, intellectuals of a certain bias. The same hold true for MSNBC, CBS, Huffington etc.

While the ideas themselves have consequences, the purveyors of those ideas don’t bare any brunt of the responsibility for those ideas since those ideas are rarely novel. Since I love to hate on some Global Warming, I’ll use that as an example. ALGORE doesn’t bare any responsibility for his “Hockey Stick” scam because he got his information from IPCC (not quite accurate but for the purposes of my example it’s sufficient). The IPCC doesn’t bare responsibility (as we have seen from the Glacier-Gate and Amazon-Gate) because they get their information from “peer reviewed” articles (sometimes). Those scientists don’t bare responsibility because they get their numbers from CRU, NOAA, NASA…who get their numbers from other scientists. You see where this is going. No one has any responsibility for anything because they all relied on someone else, so going way back up the food chain to ALGORE. Why wouldn’t he make sweeping pronouncements about AGW, to aquire wealth, and a nifty Nobel Prize? Sounds like a nifty scam for someone with absolutely no expertise in the field of climate science.

Groupthink is a huge part of that equation. Intellectuals of like variety tend to stick together. They select for each other, which is why most social science departments are overwhelmingly liberal. Groupthink also plays a role in the only critical test of an intellectuals ideas, peer review. Now peer review isn’t just for academia. Again think about the news media. Hannity, Olbermann, Maddow only agree with people that think the same as they do. This is a form of peer review. Now academia has its own problems with peer review, but they are basically the same. Why would you challenge an assertion that conforms to your own a priori bias? A Global Warming alarmist isn’t going to question the new “study” that confirms their bias, but they are going to challenge one that refutes their bias. Hannity isn’t going to challenge a panel member that he agrees with, but he will challenge Colmes since they hold different ideas.

The more I think about groupthink, the more I’m amazed that we (Humans) have managed to learn, innovate and evolve as much as we have. The intelligentsia of Galileo’s time held vastly differing views on the solar system than Galileo. Yet somehow through the fog of groupthink and confirmation biases, the truth did come out. This gives me hope that all the nonsense coming out of our present intelligentsia will eventually be shown to be false, much like Erlich’s and Malthus’ population forecasts were shown to be false. But in the mean time and even after proven wrong, intellectuals like Erlich will still gain money, power and prestige from those that believe the same way he does, regardless if it’s factually false. Orwell said that “some ideas are so foolish that only an intellectual could believe them, for no ordinary man could be such a fool.”

Conclusion

I realize that this didn’t turn out to be a “mini” review. It is quite a long piece for me. Intellectuals and Society is a fabulous book. I highly recommend everyone read it, even though I know few actually will. It’s their loss. There are a few things that do need to be cleared up.

Yes Dr. Sowell is an intellectual as well. I’ve noticed a lot of Liberals try to make the case that Dr. Sowell’s thesis doesn’t hold because he is arguing against his own profession. Of course that case is hogwash. That’s like saying a doctor shouldn’t call into question, questionable practices by fellow doctors. That critique isn’t so much an argument as it is ad hominem.

Dr. Sowell’s book  takes aim at Liberals mostly. Of course the fact that the majority of intellectuals have been Left leaning be of any consequence?  The thesis holds true across the political spectrum. Just because Dr. Sowell doesn’t say so, doesn’t mean you can dismiss his thesis. Of course it’s those kinds of dismissals that distinguishes intellectuals from people actually interested in learning. Intellectuals love to mischaracterize opponents positions in order to bolster their case, the Tea Parties are a case in point.

As a final note, I would recommend that before you read Intellectuals and Society, that you read A Conflict of Visions first. The whole notion of constrained and unconstrained vision originated from A Conflict of Visions and is dispersed through Intellectuals.