The quick and the ed

Kim at Larvartus Prodeo kicks off a long comments thread talking about my education research, and the limitations of economic imperialism. Worth reading.

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6 Responses to The quick and the ed

  1. John Greenfield says:


    I read you did your Ph.D at Harvard. Did you take any classes with Steven Levitt as I see a lot of your research using the same thinking patterns? I think this is a fantastic contribution to Australian debate. In your defence your critics should admire the considerable imagination it takes to design methodoligies the way you are. That paper on the relationship between house prices and school quality was an excellent example of Freakonomics. I think my favourite one from Levitt’s book was how they caught the exam cheats among Chicago’s school teachers!

    Rather than vilifying economics as an inadequate instrument, folks should marvel at just how dexterous economics can be in the right hands. Sure, economics might not be able to go all the way, but nobody else in this country has been able to approach these questions in such a rigorous data-rich fashion. If the critics thinks economics is just a right-wing “discourse” they should put forward their superior analyses.

    Your work is just as much an invitation to treat as an “answer.”

  2. Joshua Gans says:

    I can’t believe how controversial you have managed to become for doing normal stuff!

  3. Andrew Leigh says:

    John, Levitt did spend time at Harvard (he was at the Society of Fellows), but I arrived after he’d taken up his position at Chicago. I’ve met him a couple of times, and written up his work a bunch of times, but never had the pleasure of taking a class from him.

    JG, I feel much the same…

  4. Patrick says:

    Most of that comments thread is really died-in-the-wool leftists seizing the opportunity to exclaim with glee:

    Economists bad; feelings good; unionists’ feelings better; lefty feelings best!

    There is some interesting discussion, but not the majority.

  5. Patrick is spot on. Andrew L is too kind to LP.

  6. perhaps not says:

    I don’t think so. It’s important to address the substantive claims made, particularly on the birthing issue. The critique of your work was written with seriousness and good faith by the author. He or she is right to be unhappy with the poor response it elicited that the differences were somehow of “form” rather than substance. To his/her mind AL made some good data analysis but also made a number of unsubstantiated claims that he refuses to retract but also has no good defense of. To cite Tigtog (who I don’t know): “you have made arguments that there will be health implications from timeshifting these pre-scheduled birth interventions. Those arguments simply do not stand up.”

    Ditto on teaching. If the claim is we should use randomised trials for individuated teacher pay, fine. But without evidence it seems premature to advocate for the implementation of such a policy, unless you buy into a simplifying assumption of economics which can provide analytic purchase but is also empirically off the mark in describing many types of social behavior. Further, it strikes me that there are other trials that could be run along the lines being suggested that seem equally worthy, and worth a shot. And the point being made that such trials would get at hard to measure but important questions such as how individuated pay affects teacher morale over time is a good one, given it could have important knock-on effects for areas other than simple scores where teachers play an important role shaping young minds.

    I haven’t posted in any of these debates, am not a teacher nor friends to any of the posters thus far. I’m also not a regular LP reader. But I think there’s a very important point being made about drawing substantive policy recommendations in an area *outside* one’s area of expertise that extend beyond the data analysis provided that has been highlighted in the birthing debate, which is also being pointed to in the education debate, and which has not been substantially addressed.

    There is a lot of uninformed griping going on at LP, but better to cut through the chaff and address the important debate that lies beneath, rather than leaving it at agreeing amongst economists that everyone else is just being so unfair.

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