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There is not a single paper I published that I wouldn’t have changed in retrospect. Usually it’s because I regret giving in too quickly to bad “suggestions” from referees. But even when I was happy with the final version of the paper when I submitted it, I see things differently after a couple of months. Luckily, the journal system, with all its faults, at least don’t let us keep rewriting our papers. Otherwise, we might have got this

 

Here is Sam Harris, in an addendum to his post How Rich is Too Rich?

I would be interested to know if any economist has an economic argument against the following ideas:

Future breakthroughs in technology (e.g. robotics, nanotech) could eliminate millions of jobs very quickly, creating a serious problem of unemployment.

I am not suggesting that this is likely in the near term…. I am suggesting, however, that there is nothing that rules out the possibility of vastly more powerful technologies creating a net loss of available jobs and concentrating wealth to an unprecedented degree.

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Students enrolled in full time MBA programs in the US, enter during the fall of their first year. Midway through the fall term, attention by the students is focused on hunting for a summer internship that will begin about mid-June of the following calendar year.

When the students return from their summer internships, for the second year, they must adjust to the classroom routine as well as hunt for a full time position. Increasingly, offers of full time employment by large companies are confined to those who interned with them during the summer. In other words, if you did not intern with well known company X in the summer, the chances that you will receive an offer of full time employment from X is small. Apparently, getting smaller each year. The absence of a summer internship reduces the probability of getting full time employment at the second year to practically zero.

Now lets speculate. Assume that the correlation between a summer internship and a subsequent offer of employment by the same firm is close to 1. Assume also, that most students in the program wish to be employed by a large, name brand firm. Under these conditions, the summer internship becomes vital. Consider now the timeline that would face the typical student.

When they go into interview for a summer internship, they have had roughly 10 weeks of course work spread over 4 to 5 courses. Once the internship has been secured, everything is plain sailing. Three questions arise.

1) What purpose does the course work taken between January and June of the first academic year serve? The student has already secured the internship!

2) When the student returns at the end of the summer and has done well, full time employment is assured. What purpose does the second year of the program serve?

3) In the roughly 10 weeks of the fall when the student is still hunting for an internship, can a school really have an impact on a student?

Now, focus on the school. Helping its students secure a summer internship becomes vital. So, how does a school support a student in this? Ensuring they have the knowledge to impress at the interview. Of course they should know Finance, Accounting and Marketing. What about Strategy? Leadership? But to understand some of this don’t they need to know some economics? As many spend they summer internships analyzing data, shouldn’t they be exposed to statistics? How is this to be done in 10 weeks? Start earlier. In fact at Kellogg we begin about 2 weeks before the start of the regular academic year for the University. Wharton starts `early’ as well. Other schools are revising their core curriculum in order to stuff more into the first 10 weeks so that their students are prepared for the interviews.

Under the stark assumptions I laid out above, it would seem that in about 5 years schools will be faced with a stark choice.

a) If we believe that the course work and experiences that a 2 year program offer are valuable we will have to start earlier.
b) If we don’t, then we should shrink our programs to 10 weeks, have the University spin us off as a private company that offers placement and interview preparation services.

The working conditions of interns at hospitals in Israel are bad: hard work, long shifts, insufficient working power, low salary. So they went on strike, demanding more manpower, higher salaries, less working hours. As expected, the government tries to do nothing, to postpone negotiations as much as possible, to minimize the cost of its concessions. After long and futile negotiations the interns made an interesting move: 20% of the interns submitted resignation letters that will become effective on September 4th. Probably one of the interns’ leaders studied game theory, and knows the power of ireversible threat. Though this threat looks irreversible, plainly it is not, but at least for laymen it looks irreversible.

The CEO of the Ministry of Health probably did not study game theory, and does not recognize the power of the threat.  Or maybe he knows that laymen do not know game theory. He is quoted in the newspapers as saying:

“We want to make them rethink about their step: what they really want to achieve, what they already achieved, in particular after the main achievements of the extra positions and the lowered  workload. We also ask them to understand the meaning of their step:  their move is problematic as it causes dysfunction of most hospital units, and of the health system in general.”

and

“After the court hearing, we’ll decide what to do with the letters. Options range from persuasion to explaining that they probably do not understand how things work – perhaps because of naivity or because they believe that this is the right thing to do, to reviewing the legality of the move. “

In three weeks we will know whether the CEO of the Ministry of Health finally understands the power of threats, or whether the interns  cave in.

The following headline from Inside Higher Ed caught my eye:

British Hindus More Likely Than Christians to Enroll in Universities

Is this interesting? Perhaps to a latter day Tawney or Weber. If interesting, reverse the order of Hindu and Christian in the title. Is that interesting? What if Atheists had come out on top? Clearly, some category would have come out on top. An inquiry guaranteed to produce something interesting is uninteresting.

Along the same lines was a recent ESP study by Bem published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In one experiment he asked 1000 students to pick one of two curtains as the one they thought contained a picture behind it. Students chose the correct curtain 53.1 percent of the time. Suppose they had chosen the wrong curtain 53.1 percent of the time? This is just as informative as picking the correct curtain (being consistently wrong is just as good as being consistently right)…….also evidence of ESP. With a thousand students unless one landed pretty much spot on the 50% mark one is bound to get an interesting result.

Finally, a piece in the August 2nd, 2011 Science Times section of the New York Times, entitled Tracing Social Networks in Elephants. I don’t blame the scientist quoted but the writer of the piece. She put together an article with no content whatsoever (perhaps this is how the Gray Lady is cutting costs?) A scientist followed elephants around noting who they associated with. Here are the three quotes the intrepid reporter chose to relay to the reader.

1) There’s a lot of individual variation.

2) If you think about it, the amount of time you can devote to a friendship decreases with the number of friends you have.

3) It is not clear why the elephants choose to move from one social circle to another.

For this, neither the author of the piece or the scientist conducting the research needed to leave their armchairs. Makes one wonder if the study of social networks has reached the bubble stage.

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