I strongly second Don Boudreaux’ recommendation to read this interview with James Heckman. A few excerpts (but do go read the whole thing):
what do the GEDs earn? They earn what high school dropouts who do not get GEDs earn, once you adjust for their somewhat higher cognitive ability…They’re missing motivation, self-control and forward-lookingness. I call these noncognitive skills.
…Most job training is actually being done in private companies, not in the public sector. And who is more likely to get private job training? People who have higher cognitive and noncognitive skills—the same abilities that helped them get the job in the first place. These people earn high returns to private job training.
…Richer families are much more likely to send their kids to college, but once one conditions on the ability of the child at age 17, virtually all of the income effect goes away. It’s all about the ability that’s embodied in the child from a lifetime of early investments.
…Cognitive skills such as IQ can’t really be changed much after ages 8 to 10. But with noncognitive skills there’s much more malleability.
…In some quarters of our profession, the level of discussion has sunk to the level of a New Yorker article: coffee-table articles about “cute” topics, papers using “clever” instruments. The authors of these papers are usually unclear about the economic questions they address, the data used to support their conclusions and the econometrics used to justify their estimates. This is a sad development that I hope is a passing fad.
From the latter passage, I’m guessing that Heckman is not a fan of a certain currently hot-selling economics book.
Jun 20 2005 at 5:40pm
Is Heckman dissing Freakonomics?
Jun 21 2005 at 8:38am
Fascinating interview. Thanks for linking it.
Jun 21 2005 at 8:43am
Fascinating interview! Unfortunately, this important information isn’t reaching the general public who elect politicians. As a result, we spend more and more to send young people to college who already have the cognitive and non-cognitive skills they need in order to succeed.
Heckman doesn’t mention it in the interview, but I would like to hear his thoughts on the self-esteem movement in education. It has become the established religion of education that low self-esteem causes all failure. I have opposed it for much of my adult life because it encourages the child to feel good about himself even if he possesses no skills, cognitive or otherwise. A few studies have demonstrated that excessively high self-esteem can lead to criminal behavior. If early childhood intervention seeks to improve self-esteem without improving non-cognitive skills, then nothing will improve.
Jun 21 2005 at 3:10pm
Is Heckman suggesting that economists should not act to maximize their income?
Jun 21 2005 at 5:15pm
“Is Heckman suggesting that economists should not act to maximize their income?”
I think Heckman is saying that while it is nice to make some money, make sure the work you’re doing is intellectually rigorous. Of which he has a point; even Paul Krugman will forever go down as one of the great economists of our time (if his silly tirades in the New York Times don’t replace his respected work first).
Great read. Now I can only hope some policymakers (especially in Arizona) can read it to know that their policies are woefully misdirected.
Jun 21 2005 at 6:13pm
Intellectually rigorous work is time consuming and bores most people. It’s not like economists are taken seriously these days. The federal defecit, coming war over diminishing oil reserves and soical programs gone wild will affect the future of our economy far more that any detailed study of the elasticity of demand for zzzzzz.
Who has intellectually rigorous standards anymore? Cronyism is rampant in both governmental and corporate America. No one gives a crap about the future anymore. They just care about how much money they can stash away before everything goes off the rails.
If economists can make a wad of cash by pushing their books full of twaddle, more power to them.
Jun 22 2005 at 3:43am
It is often fun when in conversation with an economist to suggest to him that he only really holds his free-market views because doing so allows him to maximise his income.
In very few other disciplines in the social sciences is it considered a serious and personal insult to tell a man that his theory of human behaviour is correct. I can only think of evolutionary psychology as the other one.
John B. Chilton
Jun 22 2005 at 9:26am
I excerpted the interview at Emirates Economist.
Mahalanobis is one who has some critical comments about what Heckman had to say.
Patrick R. Sullivan
Jun 22 2005 at 1:52pm
It’s far more likely that an economist holds statist beliefs that allows him to maximize his income. Thurow, JK Galbraith, Paul David and his sidekick, come to mind.
Jun 22 2005 at 2:24pm
And which economic theory is it that suggests that individuals are income maximizers? I hold free-market views because it removes the uneasy feeling I would get if I simultaneously supported and opposed violent disruption of transactions depending on whether or not the disruptor was a government. I’ll have to find an economic theory based on the view that humans act so as to remove the unease that they would experience but for their action.
Comments are closed.