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polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

email: jasonsoon AT mail.com

 
 
 

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    Friday, March 05, 2004
     
    Arts jobs

    Earlier in the year I triggered some controversy in the pages of The Australian's Higher Education Supplement by criticising the claim of Ian McCalman, President of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, that

    What's becoming quite clear is that vocational degrees only have limited benefit.

    And I also tackled the Dean of Arts at the University of Sydney, Stephen Garton, over his assertion that today's employers were more concerned with various generic skills than with specific subjects.

    It could be gender studies or ancient Greek he was quoted as saying.

    Their response, published in the Higher Education Supplement and on the Academy's website, was notable for two things. First, it largely ignored my central point, which wasn't that Arts graduates don't get jobs or don't have generic skills, but that there is no evidence that they are better than graduates of vocational faculties, and some evidence that they are worse. Second, while the response was critical of some of my data sources, it provided no new evidence to substantiate McCalman and Garton's original claims, and worse still provided no commitment to produce it. It tells you a lot about their commitment to evidence and critical thinking that they are quite happy to tell prospective students that they will do well in the labour market with an Arts degree, but won't commission any research to prove it.

    I now have ABS employment data from their 2003 Education and Work survey. There is a problem with this data for these purposes, because the ABS collect data by field of study rather than degree, and the 'society and culture' category that includes most Arts subjects also includes economics and law. So by using society and culture as a proxy for arts I am likely to overstate the employment success of arts graduates, given the more vocational nature of disciplines like law and economics.

    Nevertheless, the results are worth reporting. As I agree with the Arts lobby, Arts graduates do have a more difficult path into employment than the average graduate. Among the aged 24 and under group, 11% in society and culture are unemployed, compared to an average of 8.7%. Interestingly, though, in 2003 engineering and IT graduates did slightly worse, the latter at least suffering the effects of the IT slump. By the 25-24 age group things improve for everyone. Overall unemployment is down to 2.6%, with society and culture on 2.95%. Unemployment for engineers shrinks to 1.7%, but IT graduates are still doing badly on 7%. Putting all the age groups together and comparing society and culture with the vocational fields of study the latter have 2.85% unemployment, while society and culture is on 3.8%. So while apart from IT there is no evidence that 'vocational degrees have only limited benefit', most degrees provide reasonable insurance against unemployment.

    Most graduates get jobs, but are they good jobs? We've all heard the old gags about arts degrees, like

    What did the arts graduate say to the commerce graduate?

    Will you have fries with that?


    At least in the 24 and under age group, the commerce graduate should be replaced with a health graduate. 88% of health graduates are in jobs that are likely to require degrees, compared to 55% of society and culture graduates. But again things improve, as in the 25-34 age group 75% of society and culture graduates are in jobs likely to require degrees, compared to 79.7% of all graduates. Unfortunately, there is no data on pay.

    Overall, while McCalman and Garton are guilty of hyperbole, they are not as wrong as I thought they might be. Combining all the age groups, in 2003 the employment wooden spoon did go to a vocational degree, IT, which had a higher unemployment rate than even graduates in the creative arts. Perhaps the geeks in IT courses lack the interpersonal skills to pick up the retail and hospitality jobs that creative arts types can get to pay the bills when good jobs are scarce.

    Wednesday, March 03, 2004
     
    This bloke sounds like a clear case of homophobic closet-gay


    "Untrammeled homosexuality can take over and destroy a social system," says Cameron. "If you isolate sexuality as something solely for one's own personal amusement, and all you want is the most satisfying orgasm you can get- and that is what homosexuality seems to be-then homosexuality seems too powerful to resist. The evidence is that men do a better job on men and women on women, if all you are looking for is orgasm." So powerful is the allure of gays, Cameron believes, that if society approves that gay people, more and more heterosexuals will be inexorably drawn into homosexuality. "I'm convinced that lesbians are particularly good seducers," says Cameron. "People in homosexuality are incredibly evangelical," he adds, sounding evangelical himself. "It's pure sexuality. It's almost like pure heroin. It's such a rush. They are committed in almost a religious way. And they'll take enormous risks, do anything." He says that for married men and women, gay sex would be irresistible. "Marital sex tends toward the boring end," he points out. "Generally, it doesn't deliver the kind of sheer sexual pleasure that homosexual sex does" So, Cameron believes, within a few generations homosexuality would be come the dominant form of sexual behavior.


    "Men do a better job on men"? Gay sex is "irresistable"? Boy, oh boy, what I've been missing as a perfectly straight non-homophobic male.

    It's always struck me, based on introspection, that straight men with no issues about their sexuality are less likely to be homophobic because they have other things on their minds every minute of every day - there simply isn't any spare brain space to clog up obsessing about what people with different tastes might be getting up to.

    Link courtesy of Abiola Lapite.
     
    Sydney - every pedestrian's nightmare
    Something I've suspected all along:


    Deluded pedestrians are wasting their time pressing the button on these lights between 7am and 7pm, Monday to Wednesday, and 7am and 9pm, Thursday to Saturday. However, a spokesman for the Roads Traffic Authority said the buttons had a "placebo effect", adding that they did come into operation outside the set hours, and all day Sunday.


    I wouldn't mind this so much if the settings were fairer to those of us who refuse to unnecessarily add to the mess on the roads. However as a staunch pedesterian who refuses to drive, ever, I've long noticed how car-centered Sydney is compared to Melbourne. It takes an eternity for the light to turn green at pedestrian crossings and when it does, it seems to last for a split second, and despite all this there's always some dickhead fat-arsed driver trying to run you down because he's too impatient to wait out our limited walking times. Bring on the congestion charge!. As Harold Scruby points out, the unfairness of traffic settings perversely leads to more pedestrians crossing against the lights:


    Harold Scruby, executive director of the Pedestrian Council of Australia, maintained that the RTA's priority was quickening traffic flow on the roads.

    He said the pedestrian phases were too short, and that handicapped and elderly people found crossing the road before the red man appeared to be impossible.

    "One of the reaons most pedestrians cross against the lights is because the phasing of the lights is so much in favour of motor vehicles," he said.


     
    What to tell the kids about Gavin and Wazza

    Last Christmas someone should have given Gary Burns a copy of Jonathan Rauch's Kindly Inquisitors: The New Attacks on Free Thought. Mr Burns is seeking apologies and $40,000 (which he will give to charity) from 2UE, Steve Price and John Laws for comments that he says made him physically ill. The offensive comments? Unless something is missing from news reports, Mr Burns has a very weak stomach:

    Gary Burns, 47, heard Price on 2UE ask how parents would tell their children that two of the contestants, Gavin and Wazza, were gay. Laws said: "How would you explain it when children asked 'What do they do, Daddy?' "

    Mr Burns ... complained to the Administrative Decisions Tribunal that the comments on June 2 last year encouraged listeners to think homosexuals were sick and linked to pedophilia. He told the tribunal yesterday that he had formed this view "based on a pragmatic approach to the innuendo in the transcript".


    Rauch classified this kind of claim as the 'humanitarian' threat to free speech, intended to prevent hurt, but still a mistake. He had several arguments against it. First, minority groups should not set a precedent of supporting the state as arbiter of what should and should not be said. Surely the gay community (Rauch is gay himself) has improved its standing by being allowed to state its case, despite the disgust some people felt about homsexuality? Second, censorship almost invariably increases publicity for what is being censored - which seems true in this case. Third, there are better ways of going about responding, through public criticism of 'offensive' remarks.

    Even within the dubious realm of vilification law this case seems very weak. Kids' questions about Gavin and Wazza's relationship could be a bit tricky for parents, just as questions about where babies come from can be a bit awkward to start with. But I can't see how paedophilia comes into it, except with a heavy dose of paranoia. That a pair of queens like Gavin and Wazza can be shown in prime time, and be a key element in The Block's huge ratings, suggests that whatever John Laws and Steve Price might think about them the broader public thinks otherwise. The system of free speech has worked very well. It certainly shouldn't be curtailed by imaginary innuendo.
     
    A queer recipe for growth?
    Apologies for the light postings, but I have been caught between work deadlines and in addition am in the process of moving residence from the leafy North Shore environs of Neutral Bay to the grungier but less square Surry Hills area where I will be joining the latte left in being represented by Clover Moore.

    Speaking of cities and their environments, the economist Richard Florida in the US has made a name for himself with his previously contrarian though now chic thesis that economies that grow the fastest are those most welcoming of the so-called 'creative class' which in concrete terms means economies where the society is most tolerant of and catering to non-conformity and alternative lifestyles. Florida explains his main ideas here:


    Research I conducted with Gary Gates, an Urban Institute demographer, shows that the big new-ideas and cutting-edge industries that lead to sustained prosperity are more likely to exist where gay people feel welcome. Most centers of tech-based business growth also have the highest concentrations of gay couples. Conversely, major areas with relatively few gay couples tend to be slow- or no-growth places. Pittsburgh and Buffalo, which have low percentages of gay couples, were two of only three major regions to lose population from 1990 to 2000.

    Innovation and overall regional economic vitality also are closely associated with the presence of gays and other indicators of tolerance and diversity, such as the percentage of immigrants and the level of racial and ethnic integration.

    Why? Creative, innovative and entrepreneurial activities tend to flourish in the same kinds of places that attract gays and others outside the norm. To put it bluntly, a place where it's OK for men to walk down the street holding hands will probably also be a place where Indian engineers, tattooed software geeks and foreign-born entrepreneurs feel at home. When people from varied backgrounds, places and attitudes can collide, economic home runs are likely.


    The academic research he did with Gates is available here.

    However, as this piece reveals, Florida's thesis has since come under heavy fire:


    growing number of urban-policy commentators question his advice that mayors concentrate on luring "singles, young people, homosexuals, sophistos, and trendoids," as Joel Kotkin, a journalist and professor of public policy at Pepperdine University, put it in the magazine American Enterprise last summer.

    Florida is taking political hits from the right and the left -- and battling back on his lavish website, CreativeClass.org. "There is just one problem: The basic economics behind [Florida's] ideas don't work," writes Steven Malanga in the Winter 2004 issue of the conservative City Journal. And in the latest issue of the waggish leftist journal the Baffler, based in Chicago, writer Paul Maliszewski calls Florida's city-revitalization theory "so wrong and backward that it reads like satire." Florida has "mistaken the side effects of a booming economy," he writes, "for the causes of growth." ...

    In publications ranging from Metropolis to Blueprint, the magazine of the Democratic Leadership Council, Kotkin has been arguing that right now workers and businesses -- including tech firms -- are more interested in affordable housing and labor costs than they are in the availability of lattes. Besides, he argues, tech people actually *like the suburbs.

    Kotkin also takes issue with Florida's metrics. According to Florida, for example, San Francisco (#2), Boston (#4), and Portland (#6) are all among America's most creative cities -- past and future powerhouses. But in the current issue of Inc. Magazine, Kotkin presents a list of the "10 Worst Metro Areas" in which to do business, which uses a more blunt measure: job creation in 2003. Boston, New York, and San Francisco, in this view, are the "lost bubble children of the 1990s": pricey and overreliant on tech.

    The top big-city job creators last year, meanwhile, were Atlanta, Riverside-San Bernardino, Las Vegas, San Antonio, and West Palm Beach -- none of which are superstars according to Florida. Kotkin is especially hot on Riverside-San Bernardino, California's "Inland Empire" -- a hipster urbanite's idea of sprawling hell on earth, but one which has attracted some 660,000 new residents since 1990.


    Much as I'd like Florida's thesis to be true, I think such scepticism, especially on the basis that he has his cause and effect reversed (i.e. dynamic economies create the surplus to be spent on bohemia and its accoutrements), seems warranted.

    Monday, March 01, 2004
     
    Who reads what?

    John Quiggin links to an interesting cluster analysis of on-line book sales, which lets us track book buyers' other book purchases. The analysis confirms what I have long believed, which is that the way to sell books is to confirm people's prejudices and articulate their intuitions. Though this is a little frustrating for those of us with a relatively small market of prejudices and intuitions to play to, there is no reason to be snobbish about it. As Richard Posner pointed out in his book on public intellectuals, writers provide 'solidarity goods' as well as 'information goods' (and in confirmation of the cluster theory of book buying, I have seven of the twenty books Amazon suggests that readers of Posner's book might like). In human psychology, the need to belong is generally stronger than the desire to discover.

    Since Professor Quiggin and I share no solidarity goods, I can criticise one remark he makes, which is that

    it would appear from the cluster analysis that those who read leftwing partisan diatribes also tend to read serious books (and vice versa) while those who read rightwing partisan diatribes don't read anything else.

    It certainly seems that American right-wingers don't read anything shared with others except Bernard Lewis. However, I doubt many of those who read left-wing partisan diatribes read much that is in the mainstream either. What the cluster diagram suggests to me is that there are centrists or centre-rightists who read people who generally have a grip on reality but are prone to some over-the-top obsessions which would also appeal to leftists. The books by Joseph Stiglitz, George Soros, Benjamin Barber and perhaps Chalmers Johnson would all fit into this category. Paul Krugman is likely to be there next year with his latest book; he is both a reputable economist and like the left an obsessive hater of President Bush. These people are the link between respectable intellectual inquiry and the lunatic fringe.

     

     
       
       

     

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