The Rise of Occupational Licensing

I’ve written about occupational licensing and its negative effects on economic mobility before. In May 2016,

the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its first-ever data on certification and licenses, providing the most comprehensive and reliable look to date at occupational licensing in the United States. In 2015, over 22 percent of U.S. workers held an occupational license at the State, Federal, or local level, while around 26 percent held a license or a certificate. While licensing and certification seek to ensure that workers have the necessary qualifications, especially for occupations impacting consumer safety and well-being, overly-broad application of licensing requirements can create costly and unnecessary barriers to entering a profession. Licensing can lead to higher wages for those able to obtain a license, but can also lead to inefficiency and unfairness, including reducing employment opportunities and depressing wages for excluded workers, reducing workers’ mobility across State lines, and increasing costs for consumers. 

Here are some of the highlights from the data:

  • Nearly one-quarter of U.S. workers require a license to do their jobs.

Share of Workers with an Occupational License

  • About two-thirds of the growth in licensing over time stems from an increase in the number of professions that require a license.

Percent Licensed Over Time: Estimated and Counterfactual

  • While licensing is more prevalent in high-income professions such as healthcare and law, it is common in many middle- and lower-income professions as well.

Percent Licensed by Occupation Group

  • Unlicensed workers earn less than licensed workers in the same occupation with similar demographics and educational attainment, and the wage gap is similar across high and low-wage occupations.

Hourly Wages of Licensed and Unlicensed Workers By Occupation


There’s more. Check out the entire White House post.

Want Fewer Deaths and Fewer DUIs? Ride Uber

Image result for uber

Remember when people were peddling that #deleteUber nonsense? Well, here’s a few more reasons to hate Uber according to a 2016 study:

Using a differences-in-differences specification and controlling for county-specific linear trends, we find that the entry of ride-sharing tends to decrease fatal vehicular crashes. Our (unweighted) estimated 1.1 percent decline in vehicle fatalities for each additional quarter are smaller than those found by Greenwood and Wattal (2015).

We…observe declines in arrests for assault and DUI. Specifically, we find that Uber’s entry lowers DUIs rates by 6 to 27 percent. The magnitude of our findings are smaller than those found by Jackson and Owens (2011) who show that DUIs decreased by 40% when the Washington DC Transit Authority expanded late night Metro transportation services. In many cases, these declines become larger the longer the service is available in an area. These beneficial declines are somewhat offset by increases in arrests for motor vehicle thefts (pg. 15).

Here are the specifics on fatal accidents:

Our unweighted estimates are consistent with Uber leading to larger declines in fatal accidents the longer the service is available. Fatal crashes decline by 0.5 percent for each additional month or 1.5 percent for each additional quarter Uber is available. Night-time fatal crashes decline by 0.9 percent for each additional month or 2.7 percent per quarter. The number of fatalities decline by 0.37 percent for each additional month or 1.1 percent for each additional quarter Uber is available. Our estimates are a third of the size as those in Greenwood and Wattal (2015) who find a “3.6% – 5.6% decrease in the rate of motor vehicle homicides per quarter [or 0.9% – 1.4% per month] in the state of California.” In the weighted regressions, the estimated effect over time tends to be smaller and statistically significant. We observe statistically significant and economically meaningful declines in fatal accidents, fatal night time accidents, and the number of fatalities the longer Uber is available.

…Overall, our findings suggest that Uber does not increase overall fatal crash rates and, for some specifications, is associated with a decline in fatal crash rates (pgs. 12-13).

And for various crimes:

The results are similar with and without weights: counties with Uber experience statistically significant declines in arrests for other assaults and DUIs. The magnitudes are economically important and typically larger for the weighted estimates. For other 14 assaults, the entrance of Uber is associated with a 11 to 18 percent decline. The availability of Uber is associated with a 6 to 27 percent decline in DUIs. Counties experience a 55 to 157 percent increases in arrests for motor vehicle thefts after the introduction of Uber. This may come from an increased propensity for Uber passengers to leave personal vehicles parked in public locations.

…For DUIs, we witness a 2.8 to 3.4 percent decline for each additional month of Uber service. We continue to observe declines in arrests for assault; each additional month of Uber availability is associated with a 2.4 percent decline in assaults in the unweighted estimate. The results for motor vehicle thefts are also consistent across specifications with some evidence of increasing thefts over time.

Because we are concerned that Uber may enter areas with characteristics that are correlated with crime rates, we restrict the sample to only those areas where Uber services have been offered…[A]rrests for DUI decline by 17 percent with the entry of Uber. Including both the entry and trend effects, the…estimates reveal a 2.7 to 3.9 percent decline in DUIs for each additional month Uber service is available. Motor vehicle thefts increase following the entry of the ride-sharing service. The results for assaults, however, become statistically insignificant.

Our estimates reveal that the introduction of Uber lowers arrests due to DUIs and may lower assaults. Overall, this suggests that the introduction of Uber increases the safety of citizens. We also witness little to no change in liquor law violations, fraud, or embezzlement. This suggests that our findings are not due to overall declines in crime rates. We do, however, witness an increase in the theft of vehicles (pgs. 13-15).

Safer societies with fewer deaths: not a bad trade-off for “selling out” at JFK airport.

Teachers: Made, Not Born

Teacher quality matters, according to The Economist:

Many factors shape a child’s success, but in schools nothing matters as much as the quality of teaching. In a study updated last year, John Hattie of the University of Melbourne crunched the results of more than 65,000 research papers on the effects of hundreds of interventions on the learning of 250m pupils. He found that aspects of schools that parents care about a lot, such as class sizes, uniforms and streaming by ability, make little or no difference to whether children learn (see chart). What matters is “teacher expertise”. All of the 20 most powerful ways to improve school-time learning identified by the study depended on what a teacher did in the classroom.

Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford University, has estimated that during an academic year pupils taught by teachers at the 90th percentile for effectiveness learn 1.5 years’ worth of material. Those taught by teachers at the 10th percentile learn half a year’s worth. Similar results have been found in countries from Britain to Ecuador. “No other attribute of schools comes close to having this much influence on student achievement,” he says.

Rich families find it easier to compensate for bad teachers, so good teaching helps poor kids the most. Having a high-quality teacher in primary school could “substantially offset” the influence of poverty on school test scores, according to a paper co-authored by Mr Hanushek. Thomas Kane of Harvard University estimates that if African-American children were all taught by the top 25% of teachers, the gap between blacks and whites would close within eight years. He adds that if the average American teacher were as good as those at the top quartile the gap in test scores between America and Asian countries would be closed within four years.

…In 2014 Rob Coe of Durham University, in England, noted in a report on what makes great teaching that many commonly used classroom techniques do not work. Unearned praise, grouping by ability and accepting or encouraging children’s different “learning styles” are widely espoused but bad ideas. So too is the notion that pupils can discover complex ideas all by themselves. Teachers must impart knowledge and critical thinking.

But the real question is this: are good teachers born or made? A 2011 “survey of attitudes to education found that such portrayals reflect what people believe: 70% of Americans thought the ability to teach was more the result of innate talent than training.” But the article notes,

Few other professionals are so isolated in their work, or get so little feedback, as Western teachers. Today 40% of teachers in the OECD have never taught alongside another teacher, observed another or given feedback. Simon Burgess of the University of Bristol says teaching is still “a closed-door profession”, adding that teaching unions have made it hard for observers to take notes in classes. Pupils suffer as a result, says Pasi Sahlberg, a former senior official at Finland’s education department. He attributes much of his country’s success to Finnish teachers’ culture of collaboration. As well as being isolated, teachers lack well defined ways of getting better…Much of what passes for “professional development” is woeful, as are the systems for assessing it. In 2011 a study in England found that only 1% of training courses enabled teachers to turn bad practice into good teaching. The story in America is similar. This is not for want of cash. The New Teacher Project, a group that helps cities recruit teachers, estimates that in some parts of America schools shell out about $18,000 per teacher per year on professional development, 4-15 times as much as is spent in other sectors.

The New Teacher Project suggests that after the burst of improvement at the start of their careers teachers rarely get a great deal better. This may, in part, be because they do not know they need to get better. Three out of five low-performing teachers in America think they are doing a great job. Overconfidence is common elsewhere: nine out of ten teachers in the OECD say they are well prepared. Teachers in England congratulate themselves on their use of cognitive-activation strategies, despite the fact that pupil surveys suggest they rely more on rote learning than teachers almost everywhere else.

I’ll stop the overquoting here, but the piece is truly worth reading in its entirety. Our teachers need better training.

Can We Still Be Optimistic With Illiberalism on the Rise?

The latest Freedom of the World report was recently released with some worrisome–though not surprising–news:

  • With populist and nationalist forces making significant gains in democratic states, 2016 marked the 11th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.
  • There were setbacks in political rights, civil liberties, or both, in a number of countries rated “Free” by the report, including Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Hungary, Poland, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Tunisia, and the United States.
  • Of the 195 countries assessed, 87 (45 percent) were rated Free, 59 (30 percent) Partly Free, and 49 (25 percent) Not Free.
  • The Middle East and North Africa region had the worst ratings in the world in 2016, followed closely by Eurasia.

The report is appropriately titled “Populists and Autocrats: The Dual Threat to Global Democracy.” We’ve written about the dangers of populism here at Difficult Run before and how closed societies are detrimental to flourishing. Despite it being “the 11th consecutive year of decline in global freedom,” it’s worth noting the long-term trend:

More people live in democracies than ever before:

Let’s hope this recent downturn in global freedom is just a blip in an overall positive trajectory.


Modern Lessons from 18th-Century Scottish Colleges

Last year, Ro had a brief piece about how Germany offers free college, not the “college experience”. The results of free college are arguably underwhelming. But the debate over college isn’t new, but can be found in the writings of Adam Smith. As The Atlantic explains,

While extravagances such as hot tubs, movie theaters, and climbing walls may seem to make this discussion distinctively modern, parts of today’s college-cost dilemma are recognizable, in fact, in an 18th-century debate about how best to finance a university’s operations. It was so important that Adam Smith took time out of analyzing more traditional economic subjects like the corn laws to devote a long section of The Wealth of Nations to it. And with cause: The Scottish universities of the 18th century, much like America’s today, had been quickly becoming the universally acknowledged ticket to social advancement.

Smith, despite accusations of Connery-esque misplaced nationalism, was justly proud of the Scottish system of universities, which ran on a radical (by today’s standards, at least) system in which students paid their professors directly…But by the end of the century, it had five of the most cutting-edge universities in Europe, one of the world’s best medical schools, and a booming professional class from which its southerly neighbor and occupier frequently drew its doctors, lawyers, and professors. It had pioneered the study of English literature as a subject, having perceived that for many of its students, raised speaking Scots or Gaelic, English actually was a foreign language. It offered up world-class Enlightenment philosophes such as David Hume, Adam Ferguson, and Adam Smith, all of whom were at least partially educated in its universities.

Smith noted the differences between the universities of Scotland and Oxford where later attended:

Image result for adam smithIn Scotland, students exercised complete consumer control over with whom they studied and which subjects they deemed relevant. Oxford—and in fact most other European universities—employed a system similar to the way that American universities handle tuition payments today: One tuition payment was made directly to the university, and the university decided how to distribute what came in…Smith points out how [Oxford] often fell short of the Scottish system, where direct payment of fees served as motivation for faculty responsibility. “The endowments of [British] schools and colleges have necessarily diminished more or less the necessity of application in the teachers,” Smith writes in his opening sally against bundling the costs of education. “In the university of Oxford, the greater part of the publick professors have, for these many years, given up altogether even the pretence of teaching.” In the the Scottish system, “the salary makes but a part, and frequently but a small part of the emoluments of the teacher, of which the greater part arises from the honoraries or fees of his pupils,” he explains.

What’s wrong with the Oxford (and contemporary universities generally) approach?

Prices are information about what people need and want, so the trouble with bundling together a large number of services on a single bill is that it becomes difficult to tell exactly what one is paying for, or for the people sending out that bill to determine what students in fact want to pay for. In the current American system, such decisions are based on fluctuation in enrollment—a very high-level piece of data that can encompass any number of students’ preferences—but not on the micro-level of whether the students of Texas Tech University, for instance, really wanted a water park instead of more or better Spanish-language instructors.

There are potential problems to the Scottish approach. For example,

evidence has recently pointed to the patent unfairness and sexism of student evaluations of their professors. Many an academic has bemoaned the growing “customer” mentality of their students, and with good reason: It can lead to grade inflation and a subsequent lowering of standards. But as Smith would surely have appreciated, the right incentives could bring 18-year-olds to seek out the highest-quality teachers rather than the most forgiving graders. That’s how it worked in Scotland in the 18th century, where there was a simple way of dealing with the problem that the best professors were not always the easiest fellows: rigorous, frequent, and comprehensive oral and essay examinations, which were administered in lieu of evaluations in individual courses. Students were allowed to select which university services and which university teachers they would pay for, but in the end if they could not pass a university-wide exam, their choice to take the 18th-century equivalent of Rocks for Jocks would have been swiftly punished.

The entire article is interesting. Check it out.

A Pragmatic Zion

Ephraim Moses Lilien, Zion, 1903. (Public Domain)

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

I forgot that—after the Sunday afternoon session—the October 1975 General Conference had one more session to go: the welfare session. And this, my friends, is the most quintessentially Mormon thing ever.

Back in the day, my father said in a PBS interview:

One of the hallmarks of Mormonism, and of Joseph Smith in particular, is the collapse of sacred distance. Joseph insistently refused to recognize the distinctness of those categories that were typical in traditional Christianity, the sense that there is an earthly and a heavenly, a bodily and a spiritual.

That stubborn refusal to see any distinction between spiritual and the physical, the practical and the ideal, the holy and the mundane, is one of the most distinctive attributes of Mormon faith, and also one of my favorite. We’re relentlessly effective at finding the sacred in basically everything. We’re as universalistic in our aspirations to find holiness everywhere as we are in our plans to save all mankind.

And so it is that we’ve got an entire session of General Conference dedicated to such mundane concerns as how to pick a career, the importance of budgeting, and the necessity of having enough food storage on hand. And yet at the same time, there’s the stubborn insistence that working out the nuts and bolts of practical self-sufficiency is a stepping stone towards reaching Zion.

I love it in part because it’s just deliciously paradoxical, and paradoxes are fun. But that’s at best an adolescent appreciation. There’s nothing deep or lasting in that regard.

What matters to me more is this: the only kind of Zion that could ever be realized—in practice—is one that is fundamentally pragmatic in conception. If anyone could ever build the kin of society we believe a Zion society to be—one with no distinction between rich and poor, and where the people are united in heart and mind—it would be practical people, willing to take every mundane step necessary in pursuit of their heavenly aspiration.

Check out the other posts from the General Conference Odyssey this week and join our Facebook group to follow along!

Unsatisfied Retirees

Retirement may not be all it’s cracked up to be. A MarketWatch article reports,

More retirees than ever say they are “not at all satisfied” with retirement, according to a study published this year from the Employee Benefit Research Institute. The institute used data from the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study, collected from 1998 to 2012, in which more than 20,000 people are interviewed every two years.

The number of retirees reporting just moderate satisfaction with retirement increased from 31.7% to 40.9% and those who are completely unsatisfied with retirement climbed above 10%, up from fewer than 8% in 1998. Meanwhile, the number of retirees who say their retirement is “very satisfying” has dropped from 60.5% in 1998 to 48.6% in 2012 — the first time it’s ever dipped below half.

The study authors did not investigate the reasons behind these satisfaction dips, but other studies suggest that some of the reasons may be financial. Research published in 2004 by Constantijn Panis, who has a Ph.D. in economics and is also an expert in demographic issues, found that getting payouts from a pension was positively related to retirement satisfaction. But as the number of retirees drawing on traditional pensions declined — from 1980 to 2008, the proportion of non-government, salaried workers who got a traditional pension fell from 38% to 20% — retirement satisfaction may be dipping accordingly.

…Studies show that today’s retirees want more and varied activities in retirement, including flexible jobs, than did previous generations of retirees. Plus, surveys show that boomers — who are retiring in droves in recent years — are in general less happy than members of the so-called silent generation, and that may be reflected in these numbers.

Of course, it’s worth noting that the overwhelming majority report being satisfied with retirement. We shouldn’t create a crisis where there is none. Nonetheless, the uptick may be something we want to keep an eye on. In the Gallup-published Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, the authors Tom Rath and Jim Harter explore five elements to overall well-being:

  • Career Wellbeing – how one’s time is occupied.
  • Social Wellbeing – the strength of one’s relationships.
  • Financial Wellbeing – effectively managing one’s economic life.
  • Physical Wellbeing – having good health and enough energy on a daily basis.
  • Community Wellbeing – engagement with the area in which one lives.

In regards to Career Wellbeing, Rath and Harter reveal this significant point about the need to work:

One of the more encouraging findings [of one study] was that, even in the face of some of life’s most tragic events like the death of a spouse, after a few years, people do recover to the same level of wellbeing they had before their spouse passed away. But this was not the case for those who were unemployed for a prolonged period of time — particularly not for men. Our wellbeing actually recovers more rapidly from the death of a spouse than it does from a sustained period of unemployment. This doesn’t mean that getting fired will harm your wellbeing forever. The same study also found that being laid off from a job in the last year did not result in any significant long-term changes. The key is to avoid sustained periods of unemployment (more than a year) when you are actively looking for a job but unable to find one. In addition to the obvious loss of income from prolonged unemployment, the lack of regular social contact and the daily boredom might be even more detrimental to your wellbeing.

This is likely why the MarketWatch article encourages retirees to “find things you love to do” and “plan how to use your time.” Wise advice.

Is the EPI Correct About Wages and Productivity?

Image result for epi wages productivity

The above chart from the Economic Policy Institute has become a staple in the “wage stagnation” debate. I talked about it before a couple years ago, but I thought I’d revisit it since there have been a couple responses to the EPI since then. Scott Winship, formerly of Brookings and now at the Manhattan Institute, writes,

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI)…has created a widely cited chart indicating that productivity rose 72 percent during 1973–2014 while median hourly compensation rose by a measly 9 percent. The implication is that rising inequality and declining employer generosity mean that policies that promote economic growth will fail to lift middle-class living standards and that more redistribution is necessary to assist working families.

In arriving at this conclusion, EPI makes numerous faulty methodological decisions. It understates growth in median hourly compensation by using a deficient inflation adjustment and by undervaluing benefits other than health insurance. It overstates the divergence between productivity and median hourly compensation trends by using different inflation adjustments for each. It includes imputed rents in national income, which exerts a downward pull on labor’s share of income. It includes the self-employed in its analyses, for whom it makes little sense to distinguish between labor income and capital income. And it includes government and nonprofit workers, whose productivity is not well measured (pg. 4).

Winship instead finds the following:

  • During 1973–2007, U.S. hourly compensation rose 71 percent, while productivity rose 74 percent.
  • In 1973, U.S. workers received 70 percent of the income produced by businesses; in 2007, they received 69 percent.
    • For the past 70 years, labor’s share of income has fluctuated—almost without exception—between 67 percent and 71 percent.
  • Since 1929, the U.S. business cycles with the highest productivity growth have also featured the highest growth in hourly compensation.
  • Male and female middle-class workers saw faster growth in pay during 1989–2000 and 2000–07 than during 1973–79, when productivity growth was slower.
  • Middle-class pay has not stagnated: during 1997–2011, productivity rose by 35 percent, aggregate compensation rose by 32 percent, median hourly compensation increased by 20 percent, median female pay climbed by 25 percent, and median male pay grew by 18 percent.

According to the Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk,

Academic economists largely reject this analysis and the conclusion that salary no longer grows with productivity. Harvard professor Martin Feldstein, the former president of the National Bureau of Economic Research, concluded that the apparent divergence results from comparing the wrong data. Using the correct data, he finds that pay and productivity have both grown together. Staff at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found the same result.

Even prominent liberal economists who have examined this question agree. Dean Baker, director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, finds that pay growth tracks productivity growth when comparing the same groups of workers and using the same measure of inflation. Harvard professor Robert Lawrence served on President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers; he comes to the same conclusion. George Washington University professor Stephen Rose—a former Clinton Administration Labor Department official currently affiliated with the Urban Institute—likewise finds that the apparent gap between pay and productivity collapses under scrutiny. He concludes that productivity growth continues to benefit working Americans.

Most economists who examine the issue conclude that firms pay workers according to the value they produce.

In my view, one of the most glaring errors of the EPI’s methodology is the following:

EPI compares compensation for production and non-supervisory employees—which covers about five-eighths of the total economy—to the productivity of all workers in the economy. Economic theory does not predict that the pay and productivity of different groups of employees will necessarily track each other, especially in the presence of barriers to mobility.

Even abstracting from analytical errors, EPI can claim no more than that pay and productivity have grown differently among different groups of workers. EPI’s data say nothing about whether workers’ pay has grown in step with their own productivity.

Check out the full analyses by both Winship and (especially) Sherk.

On the United Debacle and Deliberation

By now you’ve all heard about United Airlines forcibly removing David Dao from a flight. That happened on Sunday, April 9th,  and so over the past few days we’ve had time for the first-round “analysis” (United is the devil incarnate) along with the second-round “analysis” (United is angelic) and even quite a lot of third-round “analysis” (capitalism is the devil). But we’re only just now starting to get the kinds of analysis that don’t deserve the Bunny Quotes of Shame.

Or you could call them the Air Quotes of Shame, I guess.

Newsweek is running one of the first of these analyses, and it concludes that United may actually have violated their own contract when they forcibly removed Dao from his seat. The contract allows them to prevent passengers from boarding in the event of an oversold flight, but the problem is that the flight wasn’t oversold (for one) and that Dao was kicked off after boarding rather than being denied boarding (for another). There are also provisions for kicking someone off a plan after they’ve boarded, but none of those provisions appear to apply in this case, either.

This is far from the last word. Jens David Ohlin, who wrote the piece, is a lawyer who’s read the contract, but he’s relying for his facts on news reports of what happened. He doesn’t have any more access to the facts than the rest of us. The “last word” is probably months or even years away, at the end of one or more lawsuits.

I wrote this post because I thought Ohlin’s analysis was interesting. But also because the whole “first post” syndrome is interesting in its own right. Over a decade ago, I spent way too much time on Slashdot. It’s a social news site–kind of like a pre-Reddit with only one forum and centered on tech–and one of the little oddities is that whenever a new topic was posted there was an immediate rush of utterly useless replies that said only “first post” (or intentional misspellings thereof, sometimes with vulgar and offensive commentary added in for trollish fun.) The replies were utterly useless, the Slashdot filtering algorithms almost always rendered them invisible for most users, but still there were actual human beings out there who either frantically typed and clicked to try and earn that first post privilege or, perhaps more depressingly, spent their time writing macros or scripts to win the prize for them.

Well, the initial reactions to the United debacle–as with all such controversies–are basically wordier versions of the same thing, just content-free “first post” declarations. Don’t get me wrong, some of them were hilarious. The memes were great. (And some of the Slashdot first posts, every now and then, were funny too.) But nobody knew what they were talking about. Seriously, nobody. As far as I can tell, 5 days later, we’re just starting to get analysis that isn’t a total waste of time to read. So, referring to all the blog posts over the past few days, why do people write this stuff? Why does anyone read it?

Those are kind of dumb questions. People read this nonsense because they’re curious and impatient. And people write it because they want attention. I’m not immune. In 2015 I wrote two hot-take pieces because I wanted to catch that viral wave. They were both shared widely on Facebook, but I noticed from the stats that only the headline of the first was shared. Practically nobody clicked the link to read my post. And on the second, as more facts came to light I realized my “analysis” had been exactly the kind of facile, self-righteous rush to judgment I usually deplored.

I had another encounter with hot-take fame earlier this year when I wrote a fairly negative review of the newest book in The Expanse series. I listened to the book right after it came out, wrote a review like I always do, posted it, and then was perplexed to see comments and likes start pouring in. It turns out that–just like with news stories–whoever gets the first reviews out for a new book gets the most attention. This is why there are so many people who cheat and write “reviews” weeks or months before the book actually comes out. And–also just like with news stories–the hot takes break down into simplistic takes: 4- or 5- star raves and 2- or 1- star slams. As of right now, my review appears to still be at the top of the list of over 800 reviews. I doubt it would have done so well if I’d published the review later or published it with 3-stars.

So I get it, the temptation to write and to read rapid reactions is strong. But it’s also–usually–a waste of time. We can get more accurate info and more reliable, interesting analysis if we can just wait a few days. And if enough people do that, maybe we can find a way to curb first post syndrome.


“Why We Post” Project


The Economist reported on a new project titled “Why We Post” that “refute[s] much received wisdom” regarding the use of social media:

  • Selfies: Are selfies guilty of “fostering self-regard and an undue focus on attractiveness”? “In Italy girls were indeed seen to take dozens of pictures of themselves before settling on one to post. In Brazil many selfies posted by men were taken at the gym. But at the British site, Dr Miller found, schoolchildren posted five times as many “groupies” (images of the picture-taker with friends) as they did selfies. Britons have also created a category called “uglies”, wherein the purpose is to take as unflattering a self-portrait as possible. And in Chile another unique genre has developed: the “footie”. This is a shot taken of the user’s propped-up feet, a sign of relaxation.”
  • Memes: Do memes “debase traditional forms of public debate…spreading far and wide with little context”? “In India they tend to focus on serious and religious issues; Trinidadian memes are more often send-ups of politicians. Yet in all cases Dr Miller sees meme-passing not as limiting what social-media users think and say, but as enabling discourse. Many users happily forward memes laced with strong ideological messages about which they would not dare to comment individually.”
  • Image: Are profiles “false fronts designed for the medium at hand”? Trinidadians “see online profiles as more representative of a person’s true self even than what is seen in real life. And, though the perceived loss through social media of the anonymity that once characterised online life causes much hand-wringing in the West, young boys and girls in Turkey see things differently. Social media permit them to be in constant contact with one another, in full view of their parents, but to keep their conversations and photos to themselves.”
  • Distraction vs. Education: “In rural China and Turkey social media were viewed as a distraction from education. But in industrial China and Brazil they were seen to be an educational resource. Such a divide was evident in India, too. There, high-income families regarded them with suspicion but low-income families advocated them as a supplementary source of schooling. In Britain, meanwhile, they were valued not directly as a means of education, but as a way for pupils, parents and teachers to communicate.”

The project “refutes the idea that social media are making humans any less human…The sceptics’ reaction to new technology seems equally deep-rooted. New means of communication from railways and the telegraph onwards have always attracted critics. Sooner or later, the doubters either convert, or die.”