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Thursday, 26 January 2017

Comlaw 101 Exam Resource

I have turned two of my previous exams into "exam resources" and I think it is time to do so again. Hopefully the course hasn't changed too much for I am given to understand my Business 101 Exam Resource is probably only of historical interest, i.e. they've changed the exam substantially for that paper. However, this is a cautionary note that should be very useful to any prospective student reading this: I have no affiliation whatsoever with the teaching of these courses I "make" resources for and offer nothing more than images of my own scanned papers.

This particular exam paper comes from Semester Two 2015 and as before I have not included the questions and have restricted my resource to offering copies of my short answer responses only. If you want to know the questions, go to the library website and find the exam (you won't be able to do this unless you are an Auckland University student, even one who doesn't study a BCom). It is also really important to note why the Comlaw department (at least when I took Comlaw 101) doesn't provide model answers: there are many different ways of answering their questions. To that end, if you treat my answers (even the sole one that got maximum marks for its section) as being anything more than an indication of how you might answer one of these questions you are an idiot. No ifs. No Buts. It makes you a moron.

That being said, I do think that my answers are useful. Firstly, in that they can show you what university exams are like. Secondly although perhaps this is far too grand an assessment of them, maybe they'll give you insights into the topics (which, in general, I was not familiar with prior to taking Comlaw 101). Thus, to guide your interpretation of my resource, I will note that I did well in Comlaw 101, gaining an A overall. However, I did better in the coursework and was sitting on 93.25% prior to the exam, helped substantially by 91.67% on the test (the mean was 43% and the max 100%) and sustained by resitting the last three CECIL tests as many times as I could. It should also be noted that I made full use of the available resources (I went to office hours and with tutorials and workshops did as much as possible beforehand and extensively consulted the old textbook in the run up to the exam). I was also a second year in a first year course. Oh, and I liked this paper quite a lot. Point is, there are reasons why I got between 80 and 86% on the exam, although just 80% for the resource questions (but this is misleading also: it was 72% for the first SA section and 87.5% in the other).

Moral: please read this, but if you want to do well, there is so much more you really do need to do. Starting, of course, with understanding the material.














As a bonus, I will include an excerpt into how I personally attempted to study for the cases in this course. I think cases are, in some sense, the most daunting aspect of Comlaw 101 because they're not quite like quotes in English nor are they quite like case studies. If you stuck a gun to my head and made me answer (bearing in mind I haven't taken another Comlaw paper since 101) I would say that cases both illustrate the point you're making (there is a rationale to ratios) and are the point you're making. That's quite weird and I know from my AROPA comments (and Philip's agreeing with them) I wasn't the best at incorporating the law parts of Comlaw 101 into my answers. (How cases are treated in Law, i.e. by law students, is another question altogether; I know at least some of their exams are open book.)





As far as I remember, I didn't quite complete my review of the cases in Comlaw but they're relatively interesting as a Thing. In fact, I would go as far to say that my taking Comlaw 101 has given me some important ideas for the nature of reform in English curricula in New Zealand. That is, I think certain legal topics should be taught in English, with defamation (not something we did in Comlaw 101 when I took it) leading the charge.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Racism, Prejudice, Power and Convincing Bollocks

I recently came across a post that linked to a consideration of racism... a consideration that I happen to think is very wrong indeed. The basic characterisation of racism was thus:
Black people can't be racist. Prejudiced yes, but not racist. Racism describes a system of advantage based on race. Black people can't be racists since we don't stand to benefit from such a system.
That's actually from a film called Dear White People, or, at least, we're told it is (I have not seen the film). But just because it's in a movie doesn't make it so. Racism is not like that as, I hope, I can demonstrate via reasoned argument... and that is what I did in the comments section of the post that led me to the consideration (but I should stress I don't think my comments were germane to the post's substantial discussion).

There are some important things to start off with. Firstly, I assume the film was talking about the situation within America rather than, say, Zimbabwe. Therefore, if by some miracle, this post attracts comments and they take this tack (e.g. but discriminatory systems that benefits blacks are possible)... you, the comment writer, you're an idiot, piss off. Secondly, this is a piss poor way of criticising reverse racism. It doesn't exist because if it's racist it's, well, just racism. Sometimes things which sound stupid are right. In fact, the human propensity to favour certain things because they're pricier, more authoritative or have some sense of class is one of the issues with the above definition of racism.

When I wander around the internet, I sometimes encounter the idea that racism = prejudice + power and I think this conception is the same as the one described above. In particular, I think this is a deeply appealing description because it sounds complex and educated. In other words, if you come across this definition, you can pat yourself on the back for being Educated, you've got past the "lies to children" and now understand the actual world. In reality, prejudice + power (or systemic advantage) is a gross simplification that greatly blunts the utility of racism as a tool of analysis. The reality is that when you try to use prejudice + power you find yourself unable to wield a tool that is useful. Let's think about an example.

Imagine we're confronted with a situation where an African-American shopkeeper and a Native American customer come into contact. If the shopkeeper decides that the customer is Native American and closes up shop, how do we analyse this situation? What about if the customer determines the shopkeeper is African-American and decides to walk away? How do we deal with that?

Strictly following Dear White People we have to call this prejudice. We thus deny the possibility of any minority group member's ever having agency/power in society as is. The ability to create small micro-systems of discrimination is a possible work-around but the potential of personal power to cause harm in peoples' lives is exacerbated by prejudice + power. After all, prejudice has none of the cultural capital that racism does. Prejudice just lacks the oomph that racism has. It's hard to explain but you're just not going to get people as up in arms to fight prejudice as if you're talking about racism. I think a large part of it is because if I describe someone as being prejudiced I implicitly say, "Well, they've got their dumb views, their prejudices, but that's on them as an individual, and if it is individual it is small, isolated and why should I care?" When I say racism, I am talking about some big idea that lots of people buy into. "I'm not racist" means I'm not one of them that are, whereas "I'm not prejudiced" means "My views aren't prejudiced".

The thing is, I haven't just contrived a situation to show this flaw. If we want to talk about systemic advantage in New Zealand with Maori you're going to get two views. Firstly, the notion of the Treaty gravy train. Secondly, the reality that Maori (or Pasifika) end up at the bottom of all breakdowns of social welfare. This is true of employment, education, justice and mortality... it is a fundamental and inescapable character of contemporary New Zealand society. The Treaty gravy train may or may not exist but insofar as it does it is intended to redress the historical causes of this "bottomness" (unfortunate phrasing, but you get the idea) and it definitely only benefits a small "elite" group of Maori who have control of the Iwi PLCs (a metaphor now). So, hopefully you'll believe me when I say prejudice + power makes looking at Maori attitudes towards Asian immigration to New Zealand problematic.

Now, it must be said that Maori may not be particularly more racist towards Asian immigrants than New Zealanders in general for two reasons. One, that's not what that poll says and I haven't thorougly researched the topic. Two, in the research I did do (trying to find why I had this perception in the first place) I discovered a paper suggesting Maori are just more anti-immigration in the first place, so their dislike of Asian immigrants may be an artefact of that. I will also say that things have probably only deteriorated since both the survey and the study because of the bastards in charge of the Labour party. I really do not think National has any ideas about how to run New Zealand, but at least they're willing to stand up for New Zealand's values, i.e. open-ness towards immigration and immigrants, and have not, as yet, played the Yellow Scare card Andrew Little is so keen on.

Anyway, the point is that if we were serious about exploring attitudes towards immigration in New Zealand and were serious about cleaning up racism in New Zealand, we need to be able to have conversations about Maori racism just as easily as we are able to have viral discussions about the Mad Butcher. If we were to ignore that these attitudes exist (due to the absence of power) we say two things. One, that Maori do not matter at all in New Zealand because they're completely unable to influence opinions. Two, that there is no tension between bicultural policy and multicultural society. We might also end up saying another thing, that attitudes towards immigration are a small part of being racist in New Zealand. This could lead to undue focus on other kinds of racism and allow the continued exploitation of, for instance, immigrant labour on fishing boats.

The overall point here is that racist structures aren't racist because they're structures. They're racist because they are prejudiced and discriminatory on the grounds of ethnicity. This is not to say that racism that is reinforced by a structure is qualitatively the same as racism that is not, because they're not the same. It really does make an enormous difference if, say, an Asian comedian makes jokes about "Asian excellence" and if I do so. Basically, I'd have to be very clever indeed to avoid reinforcing stereotypes, whereas the former comedian needs simply to be somewhat self-deprecatory (of course they can be clever too, but they've got more options). Context matters a lot (which is why I get annoyed about blackface... it has no major tradition here, so stop pretending that an American context is appropriate in New Zealand, in the Netherlands or anywhere else; this is not to say that it is advisable, it is to say that people need to think a bit more).

The clearest illustration of the failure of racism = prejudice + power is if we turn to the institution that created racism as we know it: the Atlantic Slave Trade. In history, as in historical analysis, it is very important to avoid anachronism: one needs to understand the past on its own terms before introducing anything else. In this sense, if we decide that Slaver Joe decides to get into the slave trade way back when because he's racist, we need to think about what that means. People in the past may be dead and beyond return, but if we have bad ideas about why they did what they did, we don't actually understand what happened. A theory of behaviour needs to explain an entire set of behaviours, it can't just make sense of one event. If we treat racism as the explanation for proceedings, it becomes more than a little difficult to explain why slavers would marry daughters of their African contacts. But it is also the case that the existence of the Atlantic Slave Trade reinforced racist ideas once they developed, for instance it created the observation that Africans were inferior.* This is why historians typically describe racism as a modern phenomenon.

Racism isn't a particularly pleasant part of contemporary society, but if we want to be able to do something about it and understand how it helped create the present we occupy, we need to be able to use conceptions of slavery that allow us to do so. The truth is simply that racism = prejudice + power does not allow us to do that and we must always confront those who suggest that it does. But more than that, we need to be aware of why it fails... and it fails because minorities can have agency in society and can influence opinions, it fails because it doesn't do anything more than racism = prejudice and makes it harder to confront and dispel prejudice. It fails, and please don't let it become popular.

*Data, that is facts, do not speak for themselves.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The Return of the Bilateral FTA

Time was, and this was only a few years ago, that the Big Talk was all about regional or mega-regional trade deals. You know, what the TPPA was meant to be (and, in truth, without the US it is unlikely to go anywhere). In fact, people would often talk about competing visions in the Asia-Pacific: the trans-Pacific region (TPPA) and the Asian-region the (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, RCEP). These days everything looks very different. Globalisation is bad. Manufacturing is God. Immigration is... worse than before. And sure we can talk about how it is easy to read too much into an election in one nation (i.e. the US) where a candidate who would have lost pretty much anywhere else triumphed (i.e. Trump of the 2+ million less vote), but this has little to do with popular sentiment (although, in any case, the "Left" has never been fond of the TPPA)  because it is the political powers that be who get to set the agenda with trade deals. Which is the problem.

Leaving aside questions like "do strategy games turn people into sociopaths?" one of the first things I try to do when I play Total War games is secure as many trade deals as possible. Why? Because the more people you trade with, the better off you are. The exception, as far as I can see, is when you start a new trade deal with a faction whose ports are blockaded. Some of your trade gets taken from existing partners and allocated to the new faction. Consequently, you're worse off than before because you're actually trading less. But real life doesn't work like this. In fact, having twenty different trade partners who all have twenty trade partners (generally many of the same countries) is known as a "noodle-bowl" and it is, to the economists of trade, a problem. It is also one of the big things that results from a proliferation of bilateral trade deals.

As we've discussed on this blog before, humans are not the world's great thinkers. We like to make intellectual shortcuts (indeed, wouldn't function without them) and actually can't always take the long way round (as it were) because issues are too intractable, complex or require knowledge we don't (as yet possess). This is the crux, as I see it, of the focus on Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the trade literature. After all, it is the SMEs who need the most help from trade deals (bigger firms have economies of scale, after all) but the typical SME lacks the technical knowledge to maximise benefits from an environment where several trade deals can overlap. Firm A might trade with Singapore, Firm B with Vietnam and Firm C has to do business with Firm A, Firm B and source goods from, say, China and Australia. In other words, from the ground up (i.e.from prospective users), trade deals aren't a matter of grand political narratives (how they're sold to the public at large) nor theory brought to scale (FTAs are a good thing, grow the cake) because there is this critical idea of practical use which is where our insights from what I'll call "choice theory" come in.

Obviously we want to be able to trade with as few arbitrary barriers to trade as possible. This is not to say "de-regulate" because the way to think about regulations is as "corrections that force people to take the long routes rational models of behaviour are based on". If you've watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them you might remember that Kowalski is denied a loan because "the bank must be protected". In principle, though, banks are all too willing to believe that they are protected, which is how you get sub-prime mortgages being made and then the risk being traded... until it all collapses (hence, the hilarious, Lemming Brothers reference in Zootopia). In other words, a regulation is something useful. Arbitrary regulations, on the other hand, simply exist and have effects (which are broadly predictable) but aren't tied to the best possible outcome. I argue here that if we remove arbitrary barriers, you make the reasoning much simpler, and the heuristics that people actually use will work better. To use an analogy, a soccer team plays much better when everyone is working on the same wavelength. You don't have to worry that one of your defenders is going to try pass it out (i.e. trades with Australia) when everyone else boots it up field (i.e. trades with Vietnam). When your variables are the same as their variables...

The solution is, obviously, to try and harmonise all existing deals and create consistent standards (i.e. actual standards). However, we have to remember that we are people and we're talking about the real world. This is where there are two more visions/conceptions. There is a global approach (the WTO) and then there is the regional approach (develop a network, make it bigger, subsume everyone). But there is also the nationalistic angle. It seems mighty risky to have one's food be grown overseas. Everyone knows that war can disrupt the food supply, but if they need your money, are they more or less likely to go to war when they're already getting it? What about manufacturing? Value adding processes! Yeah, but maybe in your country, you'll get more out of the resources you have if you do something else. And when you've got a noodle bowl, there are already several competing ways of trading (FTAs are complex beasts). And so, for all these reasons, politics gets in the way. Hence, harmonising deals (e.g. the TPPA or the RCEP) can be "too flexible" and it's easier to just keep treading the same path as ever. This leads to "on paper only" FTAs, i.e. no utilisation if their provisions and thus no harmonisation. And the WTO route seems quite unlikely to work, in part because people often feel regional loyalties too (which makes regional deals attractive) but mostly because it doesn't seem to work in practice.

So, with the demise of the TPPA (in all likelihood) should New Zealand enter into negotiations for an American FTA bilaterally? Well, I'm not going to pretend that my explanation above is perfect, but I think, in principle, yes. It would be better to have a TPPA-type thing (and although I have mellowed on ISDS, think of it as the teeth of a provision) than a bilateral agreement, but I think it is easier to create bigger deals from bilateral agreements than from scratch. The exception is if you have wildly divergent standards (a problem in the RCEP and an absence of bilateral deals). The trouble is, for New Zealand, is that we tend to get shafted in bilateral deals with big countries. That was the beauty of the TPPA, in some respects, it's built on the P4 agreement, which is NZ + NZ scale economies, so that gave us a bit more power (although, as Australia needed to throw some weight around, not enough). If an FTA with the US makes comparative advantage more difficult than using WTO rules, don't agree. And with Trump's rhetoric and love from rural Americans, I rather suspect we'd be better off negotiating extremely slowly and hoping someone with guts comes in at the next US election.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Auckland Transport vs Fare Evaders

One of the courses I took last year was Economics 303: Law and Economics. I think you might characterise this as being one the "policy economics" papers along with Public Economics, Energy and Resource Economics and Environmental Economics but I have not taken any of those other three. What I would say is that the course looks at several aspects of law from an economist's point of view, i.e. legal topics in economics theory. One of those topics was crime. Fare evasion is a crime.

The basic principle of all the economics I've done is that people are rational. When it comes to crime, then, a criminal commits an offence because their marginal utility (satisfaction) from offending exceeds the marginal cost of offending. In some sense, then, a criminal is a producer and the product they supply is crime. That's not an entirely apt analogy (what is the demand?) but you get the idea.

As I have said many times, economics is about scarcity, choice and allocation. In terms of crime this manifests largely in terms of the optimal level of deterrence. Thus, what one needs to do is have some sort of model of the costs of apprehension/enforcement and a model of the net harm caused by crime (we have to treat the offender's utility as the private benefit... crime is now more a production process with negative externalities). Naturally, then, the objective is to minimise the social loss experienced by crime. To do this, what is actually considered is the expected utility to the criminal. In this understanding, criminals offend when the expected utility from crime exceeds that from their next best alternative use of their resources. This expected utility takes into account good and bad possible states... these are states society can influence.

Let's recap:
  • scarcity -- criminals have only so many resources with only so many uses; government has only so many resources with only so many uses
  • choice -- criminals choose to offend based on expected utility; government chooses resources to minimise the social loss of crime
  • allocation -- more resources will go to crime if  the expected utility from crime is more often relatively higher; government will allocate resources based on their understanding of what reduces crime's costs the most
At least, if everyone is rational.

So, how does this all work? Well, what does expected utility actually mean? Very simply, it is an expectation (like in statistics) and that means it basically weights the utility and costs of an action/procedure against the chance they happen. So, if, for instance, we assume that there's a 10% chance of getting $10 and a 90% chance of getting $20, the expected value is .1*10 + .9*20 = $19. In terms of 303, specifically, the model we used dealt with the probabilities of good and bad wealth states. And, in fact, everything largely depends on whether or not a criminal is risk averse, risk neutral or risk loving. That is, how does their risk profile affect their expected utility? I think the best way to explain this is by example.

Let us assume that John is a fare evader (a type of crime). We will assume that his utility curve has the form: U = w2, where w represents wealth from fare evader. We will assume, in very simple terms, that the ideal state from John's fare evader is wg = 10 and the bad state is wb = 5. These numbers aren't very realistic, I know, but they're sufficient to explain. Finally, we'll assume the probability of the good state is P(wg) = .8 and the probability of the bad state P(wb) = .2. What is the expected wealth? (We'll denote this W.)

W = .8*10 + .2*5 = 8 + 1 = 9

What is John's utility from the expected wealth?

U(W) = 92 = 81

What is John's Expected Utility?

E(U) = .8*100 + .2*25 = 80 + 5 = 85

That is, John is risk loving. In other words, he prefers to play the lottery (i.e. be subjected to the chance created by uncertain wealth states) than receive for sure the expected wealth from the lottery. Risk averse people are the other way around and risk neutral people aren't fussed either way. There is an interesting consequence of these profiles for government, though. Let us imagine that the cost associated with the bad state doubles. That is, wb = 0 now.

W = .8*10 + .2*0 = 8 + 0 = 8

U(W) = 82 = 64

E(U) = .8*100 + .2*0= 80 + 0 = 80

What if the chance of the bad state doubles? That is, P(wb) = .4.

W = .6*10 + .4*5 = 6 + 2 = 8

U(W) = 82 = 64

E(U) = .6*100 + .4*25 = 60 + 10 = 70

Implication? If you increase the likelihood of the punishment, then John is less likely to fare evade than if you increase the punishment associated with fare evading. The problem is, as noted in this video, there are costs associated with increasing the probability of capture. (Notice how it also discusses far evading?) And, of course, the criminals need to be made aware that they are more likely to be caught... this also costs money. There are fewer costs associated with the less effective (assuming, as I think is fair, fare evaders are risk lovers) raising of levels of punishment. What to do?


Took This Photo Myself
Apparently, Auckland Transport has gone for the more effective option, even though it costs more money. I cannot really speculate as to why they've taken this particular route, but it may matter more to AT to make sure it has the most accurate data possible when it comes to passenger numbers and station use than anything else. Also, because only one behaviour is being targeted there are fewer choices that need to be made (the risk profiles for, say, car thieves and cat burglars might be quite different, even though both are thieves at core) and there has been news about the cost of fines going up over the last few years. Possibly, the reason why the probability of capture has increased five fold is that AT expects the increased number of fines to pay for the increase wage costs for inspectors. Or maybe they're lying. Who knows? Point is, I saw this ad and I had taken a course that suggested a line of reasoning behind the decision to run it.

The question of fare evasion is a superficially obvious one: catching a ride on a train you haven't paid to use is stealing. This is similar to arguments deployed against downloading and streaming but there are important distinctions. For one, when you get below the superficial level of theft is wrong, you realise that we're really talking about (literal) free riding. Auckland Transport recently confirmed that Westfield train station would be closing in March 2017 (why they are so keen on introducing changes in the busiest period of the year I do not know) and this brought up the question of why Te Mahia train station would be remaining open with its even lower patronage figures in the comments section of Transportblog. The answer that came up was the question of fare evasion: perhaps there were actually substantially more users of Te Mahia than get recorded in the data? This was controversial because, after all, how do you measure this? But the reasoning is sound: when it comes to provision of social services it is really important to have accurate data. If it is true that fare evaders nearly caused Te Mahia to be train station-less there is a clear illustration of the potential for the interests of the butcher, baker and candle-stick maker to harm the social interest. In other words, it is entirely right to dedicate effort towards catching fare evaders.

Whether we're talking about fare evasion or more traditionally serious crimes (I hope you can see that fare evasion can have wide-ranging consequences), I have no idea how practically useful the paradigm of understanding crime as taught in Economics 303 is. I can say, though, is that what we have here is a beautiful illustration of a point of education: insight into phenomena that one encounters in the course of life. It may not be the world's most charismatic topic, but fare evasion has thus proven an ample demonstration of how education unfolds as one progresses. It has also shown the truth of my characterisation of economics and, possibly, this post has offered insight into the information loading of videos versus text.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

God in the Age of Time

I mentioned in Responsibility, Beliefs and Discussion that I had recently read 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction. I'm not going to discuss all of the 36 Arguments in the appendix and nor am I going to explain the arguments I will discuss. Rather, I hope that any readers are sufficiently interested in the inspiring arguments to read (at the very least) the appendix for themselves. I also haven't strictly followed the order of Cass/Goldstein's arguments. So, that being said, let us begin.

Argument from Personal Coincidences

Say I have a dream and I meet someone I know in it. The next day, voila! What's happened?

We'll imagine dreams are some complex function of time, i.e. everything that has happened prior to now (t=0). One of those things is my "knowing" what I will do tomorrow. Say, for instance, I'm going to uni tomorrow (I might not but this is what I know when I turn in). My brain then subconsciously links [person] to [uni] so they end up in my dream/s. In principle, this can thus be true for some chain of probabilistic linking that I do not consciously perceive -- this example just happened to be one where I am capable of seeing what happened.

One then completes the thought by wondering how many times this dream-type happened and one doesn't subsequently see anyone... why would one remember that? So, if we look back at our memories, these mundane commonalities are stripped from the sample already. This is, naturally, flaw number two in the book.

Argument from Suffering

This is an interesting one. It's obviously wrong when you think about it as it assumes for no particular reason that suffering must have a purpose... well, it does say otherwise its existence would be intolerable. That is, quite simply, insane. Life/nature is amoral: things are for no particular reason. Sometimes these things might seem unusual or improbable (the odds of life having the conditions it needs to develop are, possibly, low... but the probability that those conditions exist give life exists is 1... this is profound as it makes the implausible mundane: it's just how it is for us) but they are all the same and there is no particular reason to imagine that there's a purpose to them for this rarity.

As to whether suffering is the "most intolerable feature of our world"... Well, I've read Brave New World and I can tell you I can live with suffering if it really is the right to unhappiness that makes us human (and here is a purpose for suffering that covers all suffering, i.e. it matters not if someone's suffering is instantaneous and they cannot learn "virtues", and thus premises 10 onwards fail... not that I think suffering is purposed/teleological). That being said, to suffer is categorically terrible but it is also necessary. Life is short and brutal -- and the fear of death is the natural and appropriate response. I try to avoid thinking about death for it brings no comfort (the possibility of movement from "is" to "was" and this the demise of all hope to re/solve the threads of one's life; death as cancellation, if you will). Perhaps unhappiness requires very little suffering -- let us hope so.

Argument from the Upward Curve of History

An utterly flawed premise. History doesn't curve upwards. We might perceive ourselves to live n an upward slope but the arrival of this slope was not inherent to the system -- rather a consequence of all prior happenings. Those happenings, again, were not inherent -- it may be disappointing to learn but existence is "random". This, after all is and done, sounds stupid but it really is rather enlightening. Once you accept that there is no reason why anything should be, you understand that the boulder is rolling because it started to and just so happens to have continued. Logical causality through time doesn't imply inevitability. Indeed, I doubt you could understand historical causality starting from the position that an outcome was Caused... a directional part of history... because to use such an assumption would be to subject all "evidence" to the existing narrative: how does X lead to Y? Time moves forward, but that's 178 degrees of direction. We do not assess X|Y but rather X.

Argument from Personal Purpose

Once again,we just are. Except me. I'm so lucky the world conspired to exist for me to inhabit it. This is obvious.

As people we'll derive our own senses of purpose and meaning but there is no compelling reason to believe that there is some Big Answer to why we're here. Put simply, event were ordered such that we came to exist. But they didn't have to be. Some of us might determine that we came to Be. But that's just another outcome.

Argument from the Intolerability of Insignificance

"in a million years, nothing that happens now will matter" -- a premise of the argument
"arrogantly demanding that we must matter" -- one of Cass/Goldstein's points of refutation

Both of these are wrong. Well, in truth, "matter is one of those smoke-like words where you can always defend some position as, like interesting, is is so... amoral. Does it, for instance, matter if some skeleton came to exist and then tens of millions of years later its fossilised remains came to colour a career in a way that is still being written about over a century later? Is that mattering? Who knows?

Time and history proceed in a certain way -- forwards. What happens now can only be a product of what has already happened. Even a perfect prediction isn't the future, merely a past event whose intellectual essence is centred on the future -- a prefect prediction is as much the future as an entirely erroneous one (after all, their states of being are revealed as their centre arrives in time). More to the point, the future is only unpredictable because it is so difficult (impossible in my view) to determine what combination of past things created the random patter we're able to perceive (see: time series analysis).

However, what happens when an asteroid crashes down or, for sake of argument, humanity is eliminated at first contact with enormously advanced aliens? Why should every flap or every butterfly matter? And do we really matter if we cannot perceive how we do (even if we assumed we were alive to have the opportunity)?

From a personal point of view, that we can matter ought to be enough (not that in a personal sense, the time scale of a million years matter -- we're too dead/cancelled to be aware of it). To the argument... we have already shown humans can perceive mattering over enormous periods of time -- eternity is not required (although why the creators of eternity cannot work from it escapes me). And True Mattering is fallacious.

In hindsight, I am reminded of History 300 and John Gaddis' notion of "historical consciousness" where the historian is both Big and Small... humbled by the expanse of the past, but still in control, in some sense. As I remember it (although the comments about growing up may have been purely about competing versions of truth), learning of one's insignificance is childish. But, then, I was not particularly convinced by Gaddis... at least, compared to Tosh. There are competing truths, in part, because sometimes some people are more right.

Argument from Free Will

There's an issue of an X-Men comic where (Mr) Sinister (Essex) manages to decade the genome or something such that he was able to perfectly know the behaviour of actors (i.e. the X-Men). As a villain, this was dire news indeed but somehow he was defeated (presumably by Danger). This didn't sit right with me (the premise) -- from which I infer I'd like to believe in free will.

Predictability = causedness => no free will to Cass/Goldstein. Unpredictability = randomness -- actually stochastic behaviour, i.e. there is no control from the Self. In other words, because I am Me and you are You, our behaviour is theoretically predictable. That's a reassuring sentiment. After all, in other contexts a lack of agency is something I am entirely willing to argue exits -- free will is surely nothing but the Big Agency.

I have, however, left floating the idea that perhaps I am not Me and you are not You. If this were to be true, then our actions would have to be purely interchangeable. However, we have established that the present is a product of the past. Thus, in order for me to not be Me, it is necessary that someone else be able to occupy the same space that I do. This is nonsensical, thus there is a self from the nature of causality. It is not enough that someone else be capable of doing the same things as me... it must be the case that the physical entity describe as me and the physical entity described as them occupy space.

In practice, of course, there is no deep problem posed by free will. Certainly, in the right mood, it would be an interesting topic to purse being at "the edge of our human capacity for understanding" -- although why Cass/Goldstein discusses "moral agency" after that escapes me. In practice, I repeat, it's really rather dull because we're able to believe in both predictability and randomess at the same time... ignorance is bliss, grasshopper (again, I refer to our discussions of time and causality).

Argument from the Intelligibility of the Universe (Spinoza's God)

This is an interesting one -- despite my steadfast belief in "stuff happens" or "is-ness" the logic that things flow from some theory of everything is nice tidy (i.e. appealing). But I do not see the last steps. Spinoza's God is an "is" that combines "is-ness" with "why-ness". This is God in the way that Man is God or the Machine is God... God exists because this state exists because I can show the state exists and define God as this state. That is, God is a definition and God is a metaphor... which is the point with Man is God.

A Final Comment

In reality, God does not exist. We cannot show any reason why God need exist nor find any reason that suggests He (or any other deity) might exist... just that there might be room. In fact, that we are capable of believing in God (although many of us do not do so), demonstrates the absence of a need for God... what matters is not God or Zeus or whatever, but the belief in the option. Behaviour relies not on reality but perception... and anything you can do with God, I can do without.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Responsibility, Beliefs and Discussion

To what extent does one have a responsibility to one’s ideas/beliefs and how does this, if does indeed exist, manifest? How should it?

Personally, I think that we do have a responsibility to our ideas. This is different to being responsible for our ideas as it is not really about ownership. Rather what we’re talking about here is how we present what we believe to the world and whether or not our interest is that of protector or promulgator.

As far as I can tell as an existing and thinking person, the reasons why people hold that we’re responsible for our beliefs are the same reason why we’re responsible for to them. As a means of ensuring that people have honest discourse (which does not preclude devil’s advocacy), responsibility to helps. However, it may be the case that being an irritating prick when masquerading as a member of some conflicting (or even contrasting) position benefits your own beliefs, so responsibility to does need responsibility for if we're to have free, open and honest discussion. The reverse is also true.

Imagine that John believes that Martians make better soccer players than Venusians and that Paul believes the opposite. When John brings this up to Paul, John's belief is challenged by Paul. What does John do? Well, if John is simply responsible for his ideas, we don't know anything about John's next action. Owning your beliefs simply means that you don't deny that you hold them, and that you accept that you can be blamed for their implications. This can result inefficiencies. After all, what is to prevent "fly-by" posting where some party like John rocks up to a forum or whatever, submits his two cents and then walks off? If we assume that the Venusian inter-planetary team has a higher ELO and more trophies than their Martian equivalents, we can conclude that Paul will dedicate effort to something that doesn't have a place in the discourse. In other words, in a free, open and honest (efficient) discussion we assume that the amount of time spent on an idea is proportional to the size of its substance. With fly-by posting, this is not true. Thus, to prevent fly-by posting, some sense of responsibility to ideas is necessary.

This is the point where we run into more trouble. We've vaguely been dancing around a model here of a kind similar to the market for loanable funds (a hyper-model, borrowing from hyper-parameter,* if you will). The way I have set things up, there is some socially optimum level of responsibility to and responsibility for. But what is the cost here? Well, time (e.g. the opportunity cost of writing this blog might be doing an assignment) but also social leeway. Basically, because people are social animals (and no matter how much people protest about not caring if they offend people), there is some point on the continuum of social indifference/opposition to you that is too much. As anyone who has ever participated in a forum will tell you, not owning ideas and not holding them to a sufficient standard is tantamount to seeking the dislike of forum-goers. Hmm... there are some big problems here. I want you to think about a market in order to introduce the idea of barriers to entry, but to do this I have made some assumptions that we might not think are reasonable. We have, for instance, assumed that trolls don't exist (social acceptance is problematic) and that people are motivated to produce discourse. I don't think either of those are particularly reasonable. But maybe I have achieved the main thing and even though maybe you can conceive of a better version of this market, you see that it makes sense for there to be barriers. Too great a responsibility to (and for) and one will not produce (i.e. convey one's ideas) for too much time is required and perhaps one turns into "that guy who answers every question." We can extend that latter notion to speculate that the demand is concave. Either way we beg the question, what is the socially optimum combination of the respective levels of responsibility to and responsibility for?

To answer this question one ought to turn to the model. After all, even if the model isn't "good enough" to actually describe reality it does, in principle, convey the sense of what ought to be... if you believe that free, open and honest discussion is the Social Ideal. Anyway, the point is that with my model's clear weaknesses in definition (and perhaps in validity) we can't use the model to look at a general procedure that would find the social optimum. And, maybe, it's something like a general equilibrium Edgeworth box model, which my lecturer kept telling me doesn't tell us which of a "shortlist" of Pareto points (along the contract curve within a lens) is the social optimum anyway ("beyond economics" is the exact phrasing). I think, though, we can make inferences based on my (anecdotal/unrepresentative/right by chance) experience of reality as well as theorise some more ideas. First, the "empirics" (again, anecdotal).

The primary motivation behind this particular post was the torrid time I had writing the School Choice post. The problems with that are fairly extensive. One, it started off as the end of the Tyranny of Choice. Two, it constantly snowballed. Three, I wrote it over several days. Thus, I think, there is a loss of coherency. So, which won out? The desire to promulgate or defend my point of view? The level of research is greater than many of my posts for a reason but this is countered by a self-perceived lack of coherency and precision (and I don't think I am naturally the most coherent or coherent blogger out there, in general). In other words, it is difficult to say what responsibility was driving that particular post. What you can do is look at that post and see that there is a tension between "getting stuff out there" and "securing one's views" even among people like me. That is to say, bloggers who are quite happy to write thousands of words about niche things and who take no active measures to increase their audience. In other words, we're clearly not overly convinced by promulgation of what we think.

There is another way to consider things, however. Take a look at the word counts for some of my posts. School Choice (from a ctrl-v method into Word) comes in at 4186 (but to read it's longer because of the picture-excerpts of that report), American Democracy 5696, A Plea For Sophistication 3577, High School 4491 (but if we discount the quotes, I wrote 3596 words), Defending the Boot Theory: Inequality Explored hits 2885 words, A Contest That Doesn't Exist 4676, Blind Faith 3459 (2476 sans quotes), Gallipoli 4207 (although this was broadly written for an internal), Choice 3137, On the Differences of College and University 3236, and Thoughts on History: the man, the mouse and the marzipan manages a cool 2932 words (most of which are in the title). Am I really not a promulgator? It seems more plausible to believe that I put down as much as I can think about within a span of effort. In fact, it is surely telling that the longest essay I have been set thus far in university was a mere 3000 words (about half the length of American Democracy)... we routinely wrote several thousand words at school.

What do we get when we add all this up? We could assume, for instance, that the reason why this blog doesn't appear to have a readership is because I expect my readers to do a lot of work... to read long, generally entirely textual posts (even if, and I say so myself, the tone is quite colloquial). And the cause of that is because I am a promulgator. What drives me is to have what I think out there. And, more specifically, I actually want to preserve the very process itself. This is a kind of responsibility to and a kind of responsibility for. The protector of their ideas, however, is coherent, concise and controlled. Their responsibility is less to establishing the "themness"** of what they're saying (preservation of process, see, especially Power at a Point) and more to securing the future of what they think. That is, they write things which make sense, aren't too long (while the methodology is suspect, 1600 words seems ideal) and stick to the point (i.e. persuasion). In some sense, they are vastly more responsible to their ideas than they are responsible for. But does this let us "know" the social optimum?

Recently I have been re-reading 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction. A lot of reviews of this book seem middling but I like it. I am not necessarily convinced that I follow all of it, but once it hits its stride... well, I basically missed my train this morning because of the book (which also caused me to leave the book at home). Anyway, the point is that on page 320 of the paperback version I have been reading it has this to say through the mouthpiece of a character defending God's existence "No 'is' statement can entail an 'ought' statement." Now, I have tried to do exactly this and I think I disagree with the idea. At first glance it makes enough sense and it is probably broadly true. Where I think it falters in our case is that even if our desire is free, open and honest discussion (rather than the is type discussions people have), we have to recognise that the ideal has to come from the reality, right? If not it ceases to be an ideal and instead is a fiction, a myth. Here there are two parts to the reality. One, what people will write. Two, what people will read... And based on this blog, we determined that what is written should depend on what is read. And we recognised that this imposes constraints on the writing. But should people read more? That is, we don't have to accept the 'is' and hence the 'ought' moves from it... but, not really, because the level of the 'is' just changes.

Which brings us here... what does free, open and honest discussion look like? Well, the single most important thing is vibrancy. Freedom allows people to express their points of view in a variety of ways. For instance, it used to be very common to represent ideas via dialogue. You don't really see that these days but it is one alternative means of expression. Open-ness allows a host of people to participate and Honest specifies that the discussion is transparent... it's about what it seemingly appears to be. For instance, if it turned out this was just some elaborate set up for a critique of echo chambers, we'd have to describe this blog-post as being problematic. Vibrancy requires the first two and with the third it also has the potential to be long-running as "hidden" problems like trolling and "brick walling" don't exist. But vibrancy also requires a degree of manageability. A vibrant discussion will lead to evolution of points but it will also mean that people are reading a lot in general. In other words, people do read more... but they want to read many manageable chunks rather than few large complete sections. Or, make paragraphs aesthetically to be maximally grammatical.

It's difficult for me to say where the essays of undergraduate students belong in the scholarship. Are they part of it? Or is that my inflated sense of self? What I can say is that we once again see the value of guidelines (their inherent opposition to arbitrariness). History essays are so frustrating to write because they make us have to think about what exactly is particularly important to say (I think the aforementioned sketchy methodology raises this point with TED talks). Here I have complete freedom and time and say what I want to say. Yet, this is not so useful to my point of view because no-one actually reads the damn things (no-offence dear reader but you may as well be a certain Teapot). Put simply, my posts here reserve a particular combination of for and to, which, when combined with knowledge about what people read and those guidelines for explicitly persuasive, owned arguments, we can gain insight into the socially optimum bundle. And that, dear reader, is the bundle where one owns an argument enough to state one's own views but where one is so dedicated to being responsible to the argument that one is coherent, concise and controlled. 


*As these were explained to us... hyper-parameters are parameters that allow you define some other parameter you're interested in (e.g. "if I knew [thing] then I could determine what I want to know"). A hyper-parameter thus lacks any need to have a real-world interpretation (it may or may not have one). This strikes me as being similar to the likes of the Loanable Funds Market (markets that don't really exist).

**A question of immortality raises itself. After all, if people seriously consider, as Cass Seltzer (the main character in the book mentioned in this post) puts it"if you could reverse engineer the neural programme that constitutes a person's mind" (pg. 92) as a route to immortality then representing the thought process in print is merely the more primitive equivalent. It could, possibly, even allow for resurrection after death... if the technology comes into existence. Point is, themness is related to one is one's works, i.e. the Achilles Question.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

School Choice: Abhorrent, Despicable and Morally Bankrupt

In light of The Tyranny of Choice I'd like to revisit another topic of old: the idea of school choice. I'll start off by mentioning that I find this particular notion abhorrent, despicable and morally bankrupt. School choice is completely insidious because it:
  • Forces schools to compete with each other for pupils, which means fewer resources are available to education.
  • Allows "flight" which means that some schools lose rolls (and resultant economies of scale which, for instance, allow greater choice in subject for pupils) and others gain rolls, potentially to the extent that pupils living next door have to commute to a much further away school (going to local schools reduces congestion as it removes needless trips).
  • Combines with the positive association between familial wealth and pupil attainment such that there are fewer pupils who need to be brought to standard and schools are thus less able to reap the benefits of having mixed knowledge levels in the same classroom. (This is not to say that poorer pupils are stupid, it's that the odds are stacked against their being able to fulfil their potential.)
  • Entrenches the light segregation that already exists between wealthy and poor that generally follows through from wealthy and poor locales (as now the wealthy are able to move around).
  • Increases the likelihood of disengagement and disenchantment as the loss of school resources filters through to pupils who begin to feel like they are being left behind... which makes educating them more challenging and if the attitudes flow through to their children...

...all in the name of the benefits of choice mentioned in the earlier post.

Now, the counter-argument to several of these issues is that you can fund them away. Well, that's not a counter-argument at all. Competition for pupils isn't going to go away with funding raises. Perhaps you could legislate against advertising but this would be problematic in practice and I'd rather not set aside money for promotional purposes when it could be spent for educational purposes. The decile system in New Zealand's problems suggest that it is also a difficult proposition to design a funding scheme that accounts for the wealth gap between the home and school environments. Thus, it's really only the economies of scale point that is addressed by funding... after all, if you promise to provide the funding such that you can offer Classical Studies even though only seven pupils actually want to take it out of the school's tiny little roll, it's much the same as if you had two classes of 18 in a larger school. And while I don't think the last bullet point is solved by funding, maybe it is sufficient for the school to have decent resources rather than the vitality that comes with not having a declining roll. But here's the thing... wouldn't it be better if that money was being given to schools anyway? That's why the "funding as fix" argument is bunk. If we have that money to spend, it would be more useful outside the school choice paradigm and you don't get the problems associated with school choice that aren't connected to funding (or are so only tenuously). We should not muck around with the lives of people unless we know we're making changes for the better: "I'm sorry our educational policy reform package's being wrong ruined your life" just doesn't cut it.

But what about what we've been talking about here, in this post? We have to seriously consider that schooling is a dynamic system... that it is complicated, that it changes and that there are a hell of a lot of (contingent) choices to be made. Then there's credence qualities associated with services like education... are parents and pupils really able to evaluate the strength of a school's education anyway? Education is also subject to externalities (external costs and benefits not evaluated by parents and pupils making their private choices). None of these things make education look like the kind of "market" where it makes sense to be suggesting that choice of provider is of critical importance.

The remaining question, of course, is what would the competition for pupils that results from school choice do beyond create new important cost areas? Competition is, I agree, a good thing. It's interesting and it can help spur new ways of doing things. However, competition isn't external. That is, how you choose to compete is an alteration of how you choose to behave when you don't have to compete... it's not something fundamentally new. With regards to school choice, then, where we should start is the character of schools and their members as they stand now (i.e. with limited to no school choice).

When we look at schools, what are the benefits associated with them in personal senses? Sure, public school systems developed (literally) because the absence of them didn't manage to educate people in the way that private individuals and society gradually came to want and that's important. However, I think most teachers get some sense of personal reward from succeeding in teaching but as you can tell from this blog, I'm very self-centred. But, I think, I'm basically right. Notice that people are motivated by experiences with inspiring teachers/education and dissatisfaction with their own education. In other words, some teachers want to change things, whereas other teachers are, perhaps, a bit nostalgic in their ideas of how it ought to be. The critical thing, though, is relationship between why teachers choose to teach and their pupils. Holidays, family members and childcare aside, how the pupils are underlies every single one of those reasons... and the teachers could choose multiple options. The improvements for work/life balances also reflect a connection with pupils, collaboration or people more generally (e.g. less teacher-bashing)... but curriculum change and the like is seen as problematic. Thus, it is necessary to consider the attitudes and values of the pupils. The best a quick search via Google found was this report (which I scanned, pay attention to the methodology, I didn't but should've), which suggests that most pupils are keen on school... that they like collaboration (but independence was also valued, just less so), making-stuff, and discussion but their attitudes toward receiving feedback weren't really looked at (just if they got it and sought it out... about 47-50% seem to do so at least on occasion, pg. 33). So... where to from here?

It seems to me that if you let teachers run wild and just do their stuff, you're going to end up with fairly practical, vocal and collaborative lessons. Teachers think this is a good way of teaching and pupils like it. Teachers also like working with their colleagues. In an ideal world, teacher aides would also be more involved. However, teachers are also going to be relatively less involved outside school hours. This adds to their workload and was one of the negatives identified in that survey we're basing many of our conclusions on. Similarly, we cannot really expect teachers to generate new methods and syllabuses. "No more education changes" was explicitly identified as a problem, but when I looked at why people choose to teach, I concluded that teachers are nostalgic. It is important for a significant number of teachers to replicate the experiences they themselves had. But teachers and pupils aren't really agents in terms of competition. Teachers might be the boots on the ground who do the actual educating but they're not really the supply... and pupils aren't really the demand (even if they almost all like school). This collaborative world that laissez faire principals would probably result in must be tempered with what the competition would actually look like. I mention it, because I think it matters that this is what teachers would move towards if they could. Also, principals are broadly teachers too.

If we assume that principals are connected like their underlings (er, teachers), then we also assume that principals are interested in the same things. Boards of Trustees can be similarly assumed to be connected to the pupils (in particular) and community (in general). So, the questions become what are the interests of these administrators? Above I argued that they're motivated to sustain roll numbers. This makes sense. If they cut back on pupils, they lose funding and have to cut back on teachers. There are two obvious reasons why administrators (assuming I'm correct) would want to avoid this. After all, letting people go involves personally difficult decisions, but we're modelling "caring" not "cold" administrative people so there's hardly likely to be a smiling assassin. Perhaps more importantly, cutting back on staff limits the potential of a school to regain its roll and thus generate more teachers. Opportunities for collaboration, teacher aides and smaller class sizes are reduced with small rolls. There are fewer teachers to collaborate with (and you now compete with other schools for rolls, remember), teacher aides are sustained by pupil-tied funding in the same way as teachers and while small schools need a minimum number of teachers, you do reach a point where you can be too small to continue so smaller class sizes are really only reached if you can afford more teachers than you strictly need. And guess what... the bigger schools? They're parentally wealthier schools. So if we imagine that 10% of parents are willing to donate $1, and we have 100 parents, we'll get $10... and if we have 1000 parents we'll get $100... and it's probably the case that willingness to pay (whatever amount) is also positively associated with school-wealth, which would exacerbate this effect.

But what if principals aren't so constrained by the behaviour of the parents? (If you're getting frustrated by all the "buts" and "ifs" here, imagine how I feel... the number of times I've thought I'd finished this post. This, by the way, is a choice issue of the sort identified in that chapter on behavioural economics.) As it happens, I think that they are (as we shall see soon) but it is important to consider, as we did with teachers, the "theory". From my standing point, the idea of competition is that it creates a cutting edge: if you stay ahead of it, you survive/suffer less but if you fall behind... point is that this destroys complacency and leads to continual improvement. The thing is that these improvements often boil down to cost and revenue dimensions. How do those exist in schools? In an urban area with many schools, you're going to shrink but probably not to the point of unviability (everyone still needs a school, right?). In a rural area, you're really a natural monopoly that has to exist. In some ways this is what we've already mentioned: schools don't really have consumers in the way we usually think about things. And that survey about teachers themselves suggest that "co-creation" of value so familiar to business (not economics) students is very much at the core of what happens in schools... but this value is perceived (differently) both by the pupil and the vicarious consumer (i.e. the parent). It seems to me that the natural/default stance of the educator is to see themselves as the fiduciary of the pupil. This need not be a barrier to this cutting edge model's validity. After all, the naturalness gives a sense of value being produced to the teacher, but this must somehow be conveyed to our (admittedly caring) administrator. Is that possible?

If you look back at our survey of pupils (which is problematic), one of the things that you will notice is that in secondary schools, pupils seem more distant with their teachers. This makes sense. If you spend less time with someone... and I believe this is the explanation the study uses (we're on pp. 18-20 or so). This should translate, right? More teachers (secondaries are bigger) => more distance => "human understandings of value" don't necessarily move easily. But even if they do, how are you meant to translate that to a cutting edge? We know that teachers have ideas about how to improve things, but we know that these are cost increasing measures. And the issue with human understandings is that we're not really sure how they 're reached. In fact, a lot of the time we just "know" that we've seen a bad film (or whatever) and cannot really explain (even to ourselves) what is underlying this. Humans, as it turns out, may as well be mysterious boxes into which we place some input and get some output. Whatever happens inside is, in essence, divine (after all, Man made God in his own image anyway). Thus, there is the need for understandable (i.e. portable) evaluation.

This is where we turn to assessment. And, specifically, performance pay. That, as everyone should know, is an absolute minefield and I've been sidetracked by research enough at this point. What I will say is that standardised tests are absolutely a fine idea, but not all tests are of equal quality (fitness for purpose). What is not fine is "bubbling in" as discussed in The Perfect Score and making assessment (of any kind) the crux of the educational experience. More assessment also doesn't line up well with what teachers think works... and why are we pretending that they're not in a position to know? Especially when to judge the value of a teacher we need to control for the pupil, the pupil's family, the pupil's friends, the pupil's classmates and all sorts of other things but any statistician will be telling you that what we've explicitly identified at this point isn't really going to happen. Performance Pay is just another version of this Divine Box... except now we're putting in some tests and getting outputs that will differ wildly based on the boxes (i.e. people) involved, because we can't control for these variables we know we need to control for but we're choosing to forget. Objecting to Performance Pay has nothing to do with whether or not it could help because it's impossible... and that's where it should begin and end as a proposal.

Now this is not to say that guidelines couldn't be generated to help, well, guide interpretations of teacher quality but it is to say that we can't appeal to Truth, which means we are left with Man. And one thing we know about Man is that we have emotions... they make us humans... so all rewards for performance must be about human relationships. By all means, allow teachers that their peers recognise as good to be rewarded... I don't think that will cause problems (it's a Human Truth, which I think is good enough). But if you try to say "objectively so-and-so is a good teacher" (i.e. appeal to Truth) what everyone recognises is that it's a human judgement, thus subject to righteous indignation (I may be jealous if X is recognised over me, but provided I am not isolated to start with this will spur me on because it's really disappointment). But this is just another cost and/or distraction.

I really don't see what principals are going to do. They can't just cut things which everyone seems to think helps (e.g. teacher aides) and they can't really make their employees compete with each other because they want to collaborate. Taking away less popular subjects is an option, but the relationship is fiduciary and sacking teachers is problematic. But such curricula and timetable aspects of administration are probably the places to anchor any hope of HMS Competition's success. The trouble is how are those areas affected by competition for parents? All those can do is appeal to what parents want. In fact, it's readily becoming apparent that school choice and competition depends entirely on what exactly market share looks like... and the best proxy for this is parents. The problem is that neither parents nor pupils are proper consumers. Neither lines up with the economic assumptions of rationality or perfect information. After all we have started from problematising the ability of people to understand the quality of education and we've literally just shown that we can't really attach signals to teachers. Which means that principals have to think about what will appeal to parents. Which is where you get things like trophies, clean grounds, professional presentations and dressing up academic performances. In other words, the improvements that competition will bring have next to nothing to do with efficiency or social welfare. Principals will look to make their schools as attractive as possible. And this would manifest in allowing teachers to do their things that they think will help. But it also means that you need to be able to sell what's good about the school to parents, Basically, principals are incentivised to waste money on things that aren't the school's main concern (education) in order to keep up the roll numbers that basically facilitate allowing teachers to do their things. There is no behaviour of the principal, without the parents(And I really wish these ideas are read by someone who understands them and puts them more coherently... sorry.)

What about parents? Well, there are many reasons to believe that parents are genuinely interested in their children... that is, the vicarious consumer we've assumed the whole time is a reasonable assumption (or, perhaps, inference is a better word). To this end, we can trust the argument that parents will seek out schools that they perceive as being better. Even better it is a well known truth that parents fail miserably to live up to assumptions that what I guess we can call choice theory make. I am referring, of course, to the idea that deciles indicate school quality. They do not. Possibly this is an attempt to find some "signal" of quality but as we've established, there is no real means of doing this... there is only ever parental perceptions. Deciles are negatively associated with funding levels in an attempt to make up for the resource gap between rich and poor but they are associated with performance due to the poor levels of resilience in NZ's education system, i.e. its severe inequality issues. I personally think that this resilience issue is what parents perceive to indicate school quality. This doesn't necessarily work. Sure, maybe teachers prefer to teach at certain schools so some schools are able to be more selective in hiring practices than others (that we can't objectively determine which teachers are better doesn't mean that all teachers are equally good... and this doesn't mean that all teachers aren't sufficiently good) and maybe these schools are generally higher decile schools. And maybe the higher donations that wealthier parents and/or just more parents bring enables schools to offer something more, but it may be the case that parents who are wealthy enough to afford tutors, better materials (e.g. internet access, study guides) and provide relatively more secure and stable home environments represent a reason to think that their children gain as much from a good teacher as an okay one... i.e. higher decile schools aren't better, they're just performing where they'd be expected to... same as lower decile schools. And I believe there is evidence that parents do send their children to higher decile schools more than should be the case based on the number of pupils in New Zealand.


When we look at this graph, what should we be noticing? Firstly, that there are substantial numbers of pupils that don't go to schools with (known) deciles. Secondly, that it is only higher decile schools that have pupil numbers that track with the overall number of pupils in New Zealand. However, the four mid deciles manage to increase in the mid-late nineties, whilst low decile schools held constant. It is only after school choice was curtailed in 2000 that we start to see those levels dropping off and mid-decile schools stagnate. According to what I have been outlining, parents shouldn't really have been able to cause this to happen without "choice". But what is going on? It's possible that we're looking at artefacts of decile calculation changes (as is the case between 2014 and 2015), but my suspicion is that parents began to move more locally. You get some movement from low to mid deciles and some movement from mid decile to high decile school zones. It is possible that, in an attempt to keep roll numbers steady, higher deciled schools expanded their zones somewhat, whereas the low decile schools (which I believe don't usually have zones due to excess capacity) did not. And once the school populations started to drop, they kept dropping (as my ideas above predict) because small rolls don't look good. But how do they have the ability to move around without school choice? Very possibly the reason is that school zones manage to preserve school choice... but also mean that gross miscarriages of justice that see pupils from next door turned away are impossible. It seems people manage to have success in getting around zones.

Artefact? Were some decile ten schools reduced to 8 or 9? There was a census about then... same formula, number shift?
But what about that period up until 2000? It's hard to be sure and, in truth, I don't think just looking at these time series is sufficient (we need to account for changes in the demographics of the meshblocks themselves rather than just tracking the overall numbers) but I think it's nothing. After all, what we're seeing is a period where the overall number of NZ pupils was expanding. In 1996 there were 696335 pupils, in 1998 724579 pupils and in 2006 760745. That is, in two years there was a 4.1% increase and in ten years there was a 9.2% expansion in the total number of pupils. I think things stayed fairly constant, then, because there were enough new pupils coming in and even with school choice, there were enough new parents who were satisfied with (I assume) their local schools. Once this supply of new parents dried up, the rolls for low decile schools began to drop and kept dropping right up until the number of pupils altogether began to increase again. And drops are self-perpetuating for the reasons I describe. Perhaps the most convincing argument is that there had been four years or so for the roll shifts to have taken already by the time the data I have starts.

Percentage Change From Previous Year

But when you look at this... maybe I am a bit doom and gloom about school choice. Where is the spiralling? The data that I have suggests that as long as there are enough new pupils coming in, school rolls lower down can be sustained. The first question is how did they manage that? Well, maybe the answer is because it had already bottomed out... limited by capacity constraints at the top. The other question is, of course, how does some form of school choice seem to exist with school zones? After all, a large part of my argument is that school choice is bad because the absence is better... but zones don't seem to prevent it. Is it enough for low-decile = bad parents to be able to move from a low-decile school to a mid-decile school? (Not all schools have zones.) I don't have any data that we can use to validate the "marketing budget" argument... but I do have this. Indeed, nor have I considered whether or not there has been some widespread cultural change that needs to be taken into account. For instance, just because people "know" about deciles now, doesn't mean they knew about them pre-2000... deciles were, in fact, introduced in 1995 and by at least 2003 people were complaining about the quality thing. People still have terrible trouble understanding NCEA, so it's entirely possible that people took a while to "learn" what they meant (you can learn wrong things). I tried to look into this but I didn't really find anything. However, I did find a 2003 study called "Parental Choice or School Choice: Who Benefits from the Removal of Zoning?" I think it substantiates the bottomed out idea... which suggests that all my theory was right... school choice deserves a doom and gloom reputation. I will end with some choice selections from that study (sadly I forgot to note the page numbers).

The Evils of Marketing Budgets:

Roll Uncertainty (bad for decision making => zoning creates inefficiencies)


School Size (sceptical of big is good, whereas I embrace the philosophy, also capacity)


Hurting the Most Vulnerable (the Spiral of Decline in Low Decile Schools)


Racism, Classism and the Roll of the State (see what I did there?)


The Cutting Edge (Absence of Support in the Spiral and Loss of Collaboration... except by cartel)


Dumping Grounds? (The failure of market ideas in practice... funding reform the solution?)


Returning to Zoning: Operation and Problems



Uncertainty: Exactly Why it Reduces Innovation (says me)


Ah, finally... it's over. No, sorry, I shouldn't sound like that... this is a very worthwhile topic and I think I have said something worthwhile... it's just that this was taxing to write.

Transport Choice: Out of Necessity, Reason

I have mentioned the value of transport choice before and my views are deeply influenced by transportblog.co.nz... I hope I have maintained a perch on the shoulder of those giants. However, this time around I would like to work within the framework set up in my Tyranny of Choice post. Also, bear in mind the Light Rail L for Auckland idea that I picked up in Transportblog's comments section for the kinds of choices I favour.

A lot of people in transport circles like to talk about induced demand, which basically means "if you build it, they will come" or Discworld's celestial birdhouse, which ultimately evolved into a post-office. This is a very important thing in those transport circles because it helps explain why adding roads increases congestion but both that and induced demand more generally sound a bit stupid to the general populace ("if you build it, they will come" is used dismissively). They do make sense (supply increases => lower cost => quantity demanded increases... with "cost" not necessarily being financial). But I was thinking about induced demand in terms of choice... if you build another route somewhere then what happens? Now you have to choose between several different routes and these are dynamic systems (the textbook also discusses 'the difficulty in thinking through many steps of reasoning involved in some complicated processes' from page 611). People probably resort to quick heuristics and end up broadly choosing the same routes. This, I think, is the Braess Paradox:
"For each point of a road network, let there be given the number of cars starting from it, and the destination of the cars. Under these conditions one wishes to estimate the distribution of traffic flow. Whether one street is preferable to another depends not only on the quality of the road, but also on the density of the flow. If every driver takes the path that looks most favourable to him, the resultant running times need not be minimal. Furthermore, it is indicated by an example that an extension of the road network may cause a redistribution of the traffic that results in longer individual running times."
The suggestion, in some sense (and I am sure I read something like this recently but I cannot find it), is that when it comes to roads, the situation is more that people don't make the optimal choices rather than they shut down when confronted by too many choices. This is good news because it suggests that adding more choices could be useful provided that they are the kinds of choice that can be optimally evaluated. However, in trying to re-discover the Braess Paradox, I also encountered this:
You might think that increasing investment in public transit could ease this mess. Many railway and bus projects are sold on this basis, with politicians promising that traffic will decrease once ridership grows. But the data showed that even in cities that expanded public transit, road congestion stayed exactly the same. Add a new subway line and some drivers will switch to transit. But new drivers replace them. It’s the same effect as adding a new lane to the highway: congestion remains constant. (That’s not to say that public transit doesn’t do good, it also allows more people to move around. These projects just shouldn’t be hyped up as traffic decongestants, say Turner and Duranton.)
Basically that article had earlier suggested that adding lanes initially results in a decrease in travel time, so more people join in (whether by switching away from public transport, moving further away, making more trips than before) and thus after some time you return to where you were before. Taking away roads, though, causes behaviour to change differently with people switching to public transport. In this sense, for public transport to work as a solution to congestion, it must be within the context of using it to increase capacity and then closing the roads so that people have something to switch to. In Auckland, peak trains can often be extremely full at the moment and one of the issues that people identify as motivating the CRL and Light Rail is capacity (limits being reached, immediately and soon respectively). Also, if public transport improvement allows congestion to remain constant, could it be the case that congestion can be preserved even under population growth through public transport increases?

That article also mentions congestion and parking price changes. These are good ideas in a simple sense. After all, we shouldn't have people on the roads if the trip they are making could be done some other way. This is another choice problem: internalisation of external costs (above identified as the issue in the Braess Paradox). I won't explain how the charges work or their principles because they're at the end of the Wired article but I should note that this is where caution needs to be exercised to avoid creating equity issues. For a city like Auckland that is really several suburban centres like Otahuhu, Papakura, Parnell, Grey Lynn or wherever so there is an opportunity to recognise that what is appropriate in some areas isn't elsewhere... congestion pricing and parking are, thankfully, only really proposed for the CBD, which I don't think I am atypical among South Aucklander's in having only visited rarely outside of uni associated trips. The point is congestion hurts everyone but pricing it involves flat rates which are much more affordable for some than others. For more centralised cities this presents a problem but one would hope that public transport would be more affordable than is the case in Auckland. Ultimately, I would like to see two things. Firstly, that HOP cards be able to be used for parking. Secondly, that accompanying measures like congestion pricing and increased parking costs a community services concession be added to the likes of HOP (although this may not help the working poor). But the specific point is that such internalising measures removes arbitrary subsidies and create real choices.

Transport's a critically important part of not just urban life but rural life too. It is also one of those areas of life that I firmly believe benefits from a greater variety of choice. However, that doesn't mean (as we have seen) there are no complexities. In transport, the choices that matter are about frequency, reliability and mode. I could have talked about Marketing Myopia here (indeed, Levitt discussed trains... freight as far as I recalled) in his seminal article, because it's basically the same idea in reverse and thus continued my defence of the validity of Business 101. The trouble is that we're myopic in general... as Transportblog noted, for some reason the importance of personal choice in their arguments for transit is ignored in order to hammer home bloody-minded and misplaced anti-leftist condemnations of anything that doesn't involve 1.2 humans and several tonnes of car. I believe the final word on the matter comes from Over the Hedge:
That's an SUV.
It's so big... how many humans fit in it?
Usually? ... One.