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Chris Dillow: Stumbling and Mumbling

Stumbling and Mumbling is a personal blog of Chris Dillow, an economist who spent eight years with one of Japan’s largest banks. He blogs about British politics and provides thoughtful analyses on the British economy and sports.

On socialized preferences

I recently wrote approvingly of SImone de Beauvoir’s claim that “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”. “Feminine” preferences such as a lack of pushiness and tendency not to study maths and science might, I said, be socialized ones rather than innate. This prompted some to ask how much evidence we have that preferences are shaped by social pressures. Quite a bit. Some more evidence in support of de Beavoir’s theory has come from recent research in China. Alison Booth and...

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Thoughts on the gender pay gap

What do gender pay gaps tell us? Here are some of my thoughts. My table shows the data, taken from the latest ASHE survey. This shows that the median woman working full-time earns 9.7% less than the median full-time male employee. This is the same as the median pay gap reported recently by large firms. However, the pay gap is much smaller for younger workers than older ones. This might be because there’s a pay penalty for being a mum. If you take time off or go part-time after the birth...

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Inequality and poverty

Headteachers say that children are going to school malnourished. How can we reconcile this with the fact that official figures show that inequality has been, in Chris Giles’ words, “remarkably stable” since the early 90s?  Very simply. The evidence that inequality has been stable comes from the fact that the Gini coefficient hasn’t changed much. However, the Gini is a measure of the average of income inequalities. And of course, an average can be unchanged if some components rise whilst...

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Power without conspiracies

On Twitter this morning Sam Freedman asked “whether it's possible to see politics as entirely about power structures without eventually thinking conspiratorially?” I think it is. There are (at least) three elements here. The first is that capitalism is an emergent process: nobody designed it from scratch. It emerged as the unintended outcome of millions of decisions, and it is not simply individual behaviour writ large. As Marx said, “men make their own history but they do not make it...

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Irrelevant IQ research

There’s been an unedifying row between Ezra Klein and Sam Harris about race, IQ and genes. I’m not sure this gets to the nub of the matter. To see my point, let’s assume that the most provocative claims made by Charles Murray in The Bell Curve are correct. As summarized by Harris these are: that “general intelligence” is a scientifically valid concept and can be measured by IQ tests; that IQ is highly predictive of success in life; that mean IQ differs across populations; and that IQ is...

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The socialism of moralizing fools

How can the Labour party have gotten into such a mess that it can be credibly accused of anti-Semitism? An under-appreciated part of the answer, I suspect, lies in the fact it is dangerous for politics to be seen as a moral project. I mean this in three senses. One is that some of the left has adopted the cause of Palestinian rights in the way my generation became active in the anti-Apartheid movement – as a moral crusade, a simple matter (in their minds) of right and wrong. Of course, it...

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“The country”

On the Today programme yesterday Justin Webb asked Yvette Cooper: [do] “you think Jeremy Corbyn will keep this country safe?” (1’57” in). From one perspective, the question is utterly absurd, because what is jeopardizing the country is not Corbyn but austerity. It’s plausible that this is killing tens of thousands of people by underfunding health services, driving some to suicide and contributing to a health crisis in deprived areas. And this is not to mention the underfunding of flood...

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The free speech dilemma

What role should social pressure play in the policing of free speech? Two things I’ve seen recently pose this question. One is the racist harassment of Rufaro Chisango at Nottingham Trent University. I like to think that in better places and times those racist twats would have been swiftly suppressed by violent force by fellow students. Ms Chisango would, I suspect, gain much more confidence from knowing that her friends and neighbours have her back than she’d get from having to appeal to...

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Centrists & capitalism

James Kirkup in the FT has a nice piece saying that the centre-left needs more than just whines about Brexit and Corbyn, however justified these might be, but also needs a new economic model. I agree. Successful political parties need an analysis of capitalism or – if you prefer – an economic narrative: Thatcher in the 70s had one, as does Corbyn today. And to its credit New Labour also had one: some leftists tend to forget there was much more to the party then than “Bliar/war criminal”....

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The illusion of knowledge

More information does not mean that we make better decisions, or even good ones. Some laboratory evidence for this comes from some experiments (pdf) at Princeton. Alexander Todorov and colleagues asked subjects to predict the results of basketball games. Half of them were told the teams’ records that season and the half-time score in the match concerned. The other half were also told the names of the teams. Those who were told the names made worse predictions but with more confidence than...

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