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gary becker 1, rational choice haters 0

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One of the most striking arguments of Gary Becker’s theory of discrimination is that there is a cost of racial discrimination. If you hire people based on personal taste rather than job skills, your competitors can hire these better works and you work at a disadvantage. I think the strong version argument isn’t right. Markets do not instantly weed out discriminators. But the weak version has a lot of merit. If you truly avoid workers based on race or gender, you are giving away a huge advantage to the competition.

Well, turns out that Becker was right, at least in one data set. Devah Pager has a new paper in Sociological Science showing that discrimination is indeed associated with lower firm performance:

Economic theory has long maintained that employers pay a price for engaging in racial discrimination. According to Gary Becker’s seminal work on this topic and the rich literature that followed, racial preferences unrelated to productivity are costly and, in a competitive market, should drive discriminatory employers out of business. Though a dominant theoretical proposition in the field of economics, this argument has never before been subjected to direct empirical scrutiny. This research pairs an experimental audit study of racial discrimination in employment with an employer database capturing information on establishment survival, examining the relationship between observed discrimination and firm longevity. Results suggest that employers who engage in hiring discrimination are less likely to remain in business six years later.

Commentary: I have always found it ironic that sociologists and non-economists have resisted the implications of taste based discrimination theory. If discrimination in markets is truly not based on performance or productivity, there must be *some* consequence. However, a lot of sociologists have a strong distrust of markets that draws their attention to this rather simple implication of price theory. I don’t know the entire literature on taste based discrimination, but it’s good to see this appear.

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Written by fabiorojas

September 22, 2016 at 12:20 am

are there good advisers? or just good students?

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Recently, the topic of quality advising has come up in conversation. The question is: are there actually good advisers? Or is it mainly a selection effect? A related question: do star advisers make star students? I’d be interested if readers know if there is  a literature on this question. Here are some hypotheses:

  • It is easy to be a good adviser by simply not being a bad adviser. A lot of advisers undermine students by either being negligent/non-responsive or overly aggressive and stressing students out. Even if you don’t have any special advice for students, you can probably increase your student outcomes by actually meeting with students, not being a jerk, and doing paper work on time.
  • Having a star adviser is probably neutral on the average. My hypothesis is that some academics are very good at multitasking. When they become famous, they can keep up the work and help students. Others disappear into a world of committees and administrative posts and abandon the student.
  • Advisers with a long string of strong placements tend to be at top schools, which suggests a selection effect. Most employ the “reliable/stable/nice model” and attract good students. A few employ “survival of the fittest” – they only take students who are capable of high quality work and weed out the rest. The Indiana model (support students at all skill levels) seems to be very rare.

Add your own ideas in the comments.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

September 21, 2016 at 12:01 am

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forrest stuart and the public good of ethnography

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Forrest Stuart has a great piece in the latest issue of Chicago magazine, “Dispatches from the Rap Wars.”  You can read the whole thing here, and here’s a good pull quote:

There are hundreds of gangs in Chicago these days, a splintering that occurred in the wake of the collapse of the traditional “supergangs” like the Black Disciples and Vice Lords in the ’90s. As dangerous as their predecessors, they operate as block-level factions, making the city a complicated patchwork of warring territories. In a relatively recent phenomenon, many of these gangs produce drill music—a Chicago-born low-fi version of gangsta rap, full of hyperviolent boasts and taunts. (Think NWA, but grittier and without the hooks.)

By keeping their ears open, these kids I was interviewing can quickly figure out whose territory they are in. If they are walking through a neighborhood and hear a certain kind of drill coming from a passing car or a phone speaker, they know that corner belongs to the gang Diddy Grove. If they’re in Diddy Grove territory and notice songs by O-Block, that tells them Diddy Grove and O-Block are likely cliqued up.

After I’d been talking with these kids for months, one of them told me his older brother, Zebo, is a member of the drill gang Corner Boys Entertainment. (Zebo, CBE, and subsequent names in this story have been changed, as have a few identifying facts. As a sociologist, I granted anonymity to my subjects so that they would open up to me without fear of being prosecuted. The National Institutes of Health has certified this approach to my study, and that prevents law-enforcement authorities from compelling me to provide information on illegal activity.) I knew CBE’s music—the gang is one of the best-known drill-rap outfits in the city—so I was interested in talking to Zebo. His brother offered to make an introduction.

I met Zebo the next day, and we talked for hours. He told me how drill perpetuates gang wars, how it’s an engine of both truces and feuds. He told me how CBE members will retaliate violently if a song by another gang insults their friends or relatives. He kept returning to a refrain, one I would hear many times during my field research: ‘This is not just music. It’s not just a game. This shit is for real.”

What’s striking about Forrest’s work–and you see it in his book as well–is his ability to communicate some pretty compelling arguments about inequality and other social problems (homelessness, violence, gangs, police harassment) via straightforward and approachable narratives. It’s a way to do ethnography I really admire, and it can sometimes be lost in an effort to use ethnography for a certain kind of positivist knowledge production or a kind of theoretical problem solving.  I don’t have a problem with the latter method, of course, and it probably describes me, or at least it’s how I’d like to describe myself.  But I think it’s fair to say that if you want to use sociology to change the world, it’s best to keep the theory to a necessary minimum and show very concretely how (and to the extent possible, why) the social problem at hand works the way it does.  Forrest is really good at that (so, of course, are Alice Goffman and Matt Desmond, as well as Allison Pugh, Katherine Newman, and dozens of other great ethnographers). Which isn’t to say those folks can’t do theory (indeed, many of them have great writing on theory as well); it’s just to say  these specific arguments are generally not directed towards that narrow branch of knowledge known as “sociological theory.”  They of course *are* doing theory inasmuch as they’re making arguments about why and how a certain social problem exists and maintains itself.  But they’re also–and that’s why Forrest’s article is so good here–telling stories. It’s a really important way to do social science, and it can too often be lost, as Abbot talks about in his call for a lyrical sociology.  Storytelling really does matter.  It can even make a difference.

Written by jeffguhin

September 20, 2016 at 1:02 am

why blogs persist

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A few months ago, we discussed the general shift from blogs to social media and anonymous boards. But a question remains: if that’s true, why bother with blogs at all? In fact, our evil twin blog surrendered and admitted defeat, while retreating into Facebook. Why continue?

Answer: Only a blog does what a blog does well. In other words, blogs are good at specific things and social media is good at other things.

Examples:

  • Searchable – orgtheory is completely searchable going back to the first post in 2006. Twitter only allows searches of the last 3k tweets (which is, like 5 minutes, for some Tweeters like Tressie Mc).  Facebook is basically unsearchable for content.
  • Accountability and identity – Blogs are good for creating an identity, which means accountability. Even if we used pseudonyms, we’d still create an identity that would help you assess the quality of the post.
  • Quality – I’m sorry, but most social media simply isn’t good at producing high quality content. Twitter may be fun, but it won’t replace a sustained argument. Facebook allows length, but it is often buried deep inside a walled garden. A lot of social media is good for “in the moment discussion” rather than sustained truth seeking.

I love social media and I have account on Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms. But make no mistake. If you care about writing, blogs are a good format and it’s much better than social media which favors snark and anonymous sniping. So for now, I’m stil McBloggin‘.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

September 20, 2016 at 12:01 am

Posted in blogs, fabio, uncategorized

sas programming

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“How do you feel about programming in SAS?”

“Here’s how I feel. When I program in SAS, I feel like I got my master’s degree in statistics in 1980 and I’ve been running the same basic analysis over and over again for my corporate bosses for the last twenty years. I then feel like it’s Friday afternoon and I’m just slogging through this code so I can meet my buddies after work at Chili’s and talk about this weekend’s big game.”

“That is exactly how I feel.”

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

September 19, 2016 at 3:29 am

yma sumac, live from moscow

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50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

September 18, 2016 at 12:01 am

Posted in uncategorized

party in the street: let’s talk about vietnam

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Earlier this week, I discussed Professor Amenta’s insanely generous review, “Raising the Bar for Scholarship on Protest and Politics,” which just came out in Contemporary Sociology. We’ve been discussing Amenta’s criticisms. On Tuesday, I discussed why it is useful to see the wars in Iraq an Afghanistan as part of a broader war on terror. Today, I’ll discuss Professor Amenta’s other criticism. He doesn’t buy our explanation that polarization was such a big for the modern peace movement in comparison to the Vietnam era movement:

The authors attribute the contrast between the vigor of the anti-Vietnam War movement during the post-Johnson (Nixon) years and the weakness of the antiwar movement during the post-Bush (Obama) era to the less intense partisanship of the earlier period. It is true that U.S. politics in the late 1960s featured many conservative southern Democrats and moderate Republicans, but partisanship remained important and influenced political contention against the war. In addition, the earlier antiwar movement was boosted by Nixon’s ‘‘secret plan’’ to end the Vietnam War, which was revealed to be intensive bombing of Vietnam and then invading Cambodia. Moreover, unlike recent history, there was a draft and no news blackout on Vietnam War destruction and deaths, each of which spurred continued movement activity in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This is a significant oversight because it underlines the difficulties faced by antiwar movements today.

First, let’s start with points of agreement. Michael and I definitely agree with Professor Amenta about the importance of the draft. That’s a huge difference and it certainly kept a lot of other wise apathetic citizens on the street to prevent themselves and their family from being drafted. In multiple interviews with older activists, we where told a number of times that the draft was a big motivator in the 1960s.

Still, that doesn’t get you far enough. If “draft theory” were very true, then there would not have been any antiwar movement at all. A relatively small volunteer force fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We would not have seen any protest at all. Furthermore, you need some explanation of why there would be ups and downs of the movement. We think our partisan-identity theory is a plausible explanation rooted in an intuitive political psychology. Polarization just exacerbated the issue. Once Democrats assumed leadership in the war effort, there was nobody on the “other side” to pick up slack in the movement, as moderate Republicans might have in an earlier era.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

September 16, 2016 at 12:26 am