Broad Knowledge “Prepares Us for the Wickedly Unanticipated”

(p. A13) In his latest book, “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World,” Mr. Epstein makes a well-supported and smoothly written case on behalf of breadth and late starts.

. . .

The book blends anecdotal stories with summaries of academic studies. Many of these studies upend standard-issue advice about finding one’s way in life. We are introduced to the “Dark Horse Project,” based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, which has collected the oral histories of highly accomplished individuals who took circuitous paths to achievement. The researchers were surprised by how many such individuals, in disparate fields, they were able to find. “What was even more incredible,” said one principal member of the project, “is that they all thought they were the anomaly.”

. . .

Not all of the chapters speak directly to range. In “Learning to Drop Your Familiar Tools,” we learn that many cardiologists are unwilling to forsake their use of stents, despite clear evidence that stents are not only ineffective in preventing cardiac events but also introduce fresh risks of complications. It’s sobering to learn that a 2015 study showed that patients suffering cardiac arrest were less likely to die if they were admitted to a hospital when such cardiologists were unavailable to install the devices.

. . .

The chapter titled “Deliberate Amateurs” is a delight, permitting us to spend time with some exemplars in science and medicine who have stepped outside of their cozy professional nests. One such exemplar is Arturo Casadevall, the chair of the molecular microbiology and immunology program at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. A much-cited scientist, Dr. Casadevall has led an overhaul of the curriculum at his school to help broaden the education of specialists. Philosophy, history, logic and ethics are incorporated into interdisciplinary classes. “How Do We Know What Is True?” is one of the course offerings. On the wall in Dr. Casadevall’s office, along with the certificate commemorating his election to the National Academy of Medicine, hangs a community-college degree in pest control, the “practical” expertise his father pressed Dr. Casadevall to acquire.

The advice that Dr. Casadevall dispenses to junior colleagues is “read outside your field, everyday something.” If the world were a kinder learning environment, this would not be needed. But as David Epstein shows us, cultivating range prepares us for the wickedly unanticipated.

For the full review, see:

Randall Stross. “BOOKSHELF; Late Bloomers Bloom Best.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, May 29, 2019): A13.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 28, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Range’ Review: Late Bloomers Bloom Best; Late specialization demonstrably helped Roger Federer, Vincent van Gogh and Charles Darwin. It can serve the rest of us well, too.”)

The book under review is:

Epstein, David. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. New York: Riverhead Books, 2019.

“Bureaucratic Madness Is Choking Growth”

(p. A21) Jean Tirole, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2014, says that the study of economics is “simultaneously demanding and accessible.”

. . .

“Economics for the Common Good” offers an ambitious yet accessible summary of his ideas on the proper role of economists and the value of their ideas in informing government, business and social life.

. . .

One of the best chapters in the book deals with the issue of employment law in France. Successive governments have tried to micromanage the agreements between companies and employees to ensure fair treatment and low unemployment. But France’s unemployment rate has remained high, entrepreneurship has been stifled, and companies have become loath to hire people because of the prohibitive costs of firing them. Even if an employee proves useless, it’s nearly impossible to sack him.

On the employee’s side, even if you want to resign, it is more lucrative to wait to be fired, since you get both severance pay and unemployment insurance. To resolve the stand-off between workers who want to quit and companies that want to cut staff, employers and employees now collude through a legal formula called “termination by mutual consent.” The employee resigns and receives unemployment benefits as if he has been dismissed, and the company is spared the legal ramifications and costs of dismissal. In Mr. Tirole’s view, such bureaucratic madness is choking growth.

. . .

Mr. Tirole has a patient, explanatory style. But when riled, he lashes out. The French education system, he writes, purports to be non-selective but favors the affluent and well-educated. It “is a vast insider-trading crime.”

For the full review, see:

Philip Delves Broughton. “BOOKSHELF; What Good Is An Economist?” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, December 19, 2017): A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 18, 2017, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; Review: What Good Is an Economist?; A French Nobel laureate and public intellectual discusses the proper role of the dismal science in government, business and the life of the mind.”)

The book under review is:

Epstein, David. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. New York: Riverhead Books, 2019.

“Our Creative Yield Increases with Age”

(p. C1) . . . precocious achievement is the exception, not the norm. The fact is, we mature and develop at different rates. All of us will have multiple cognitive peaks throughout our lives, and the talents and passions that we have to offer can emerge across a range of personal circumstances, not just in formal educational settings focused on a few narrow criteria of achievement. Late bloomers are everywhere once you know to look for them.

. . .

What about creativity and innovation? That realm must belong to the young, with their exuberance and fresh ideas, right? Not necessarily. For instance, the average age of scientists when they are doing work that eventually leads to a Nobel Prize is 39, according to a 2008 Northwestern University study. The average age of U.S. patent applicants is 47.

Our creative yield increases with age, says Elkhonon Goldberg, a clinical professor of neurology at New York University. Dr. Goldberg thinks that the brain’s right and left hemispheres are connected by a “salience network” that helps us to evaluate novel perceptions from the right side by comparing them to the stored images and patterns on our left side. Thus a child will have greater novel perceptions than a middle-aged adult but will lack the context to turn them into creative insights.

Take Ken Fisher, who today runs Fisher Investments, a stock fund with $100 billion under management and 50,000 customers. After graduating from high school, he flunked out of a junior college. “I had no particular direction,” he said. He went back to school to study forestry, hoping for a career outdoors, but switched to economics and got his degree in 1972. In his early 20s, he hung out his shingle as a financial adviser, following his father’s career. To bring in extra money, he took construction jobs, and he played slide guitar in a bar. But he also read and read: “Books about management and business—and maybe thirty trade magazines a month for years,” he says. By the time he reached his 30s, an idea had gelled that would make him his fortune. As he puts it, during that period of reflection, “I developed a theory about valuing companies that was a bit unconventional.”

For the full commentary, see:

Rich Karlgaard. “It’s Never Too Late to Start a Brilliant Career; Our obsession with early achievement shortchanges people of all ages. Research shows that our brains keep developing deep into adulthood and so do our capabilities.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, May 4, 2019): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 3, 2019, and has the same title as the print version.)

The the passages quoted above, are from a commentary that is adapted from:

Karlgaard, Rich. Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement. New York: Currency, 2019.

The research by Elkhonon Goldberg, mentioned above, is described in:

Goldberg, Elkhonon. Creativity: The Human Brain in the Age of Innovation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

Higher Education Is a Lumbering “Dinosaur”

(p. A15) We are at the end of an era in American higher education. It is an era that began in the decades after the Civil War, when colleges and universities gradually stopped being preparatory schools for ministers and lawyers and embraced the ideals of research and academic professionalism. It reached full bloom after World War II, when the spigots of public funding were opened in full, and eventually became an overpriced caricature of itself, bloated by a mix of irrelevance and complacency and facing declining enrollments and a contracting market. No one has better explained the economics of this decline—and its broad cultural effects—than Richard Vedder.

. . .

“Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America” is a summary of the arguments he has been making since then as the Cassandra of American colleges and universities.

. . .

At Mr. Vedder’s alma mater, Northwestern, tuition rose from 16% of median family income in 1958 to almost 70% in 2016. Over time, armies of administrators wrested the direction of their institutions away from the hands of faculties and trustees.

. . .

Though Mr. Vedder’s critique concentrates on the economic mire into which higher education has tumbled, he is not alone in his more general criticism. Over the past 20 years, analysts as diverse as Derek Bok, Alan Kors, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, Jeffrey Selingo, and Benjamin Ginsberg have warned that higher education, in its current form, is a dinosaur—an over-built, under-achieving creature whose chances of survival are increasingly dim. But on it lumbers. . . .

What may, . . ., bring about some kind of change is the dramatic fall-off in American birth rates since the Great Recession of 2008, as highlighted in Nathan Grawe’s “Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education” (2018). No amount of federal student loans, or tuition increases, will do colleges and universities any good when, over the next decade, the pool of age-eligible students shrinks by 13% (by Mr. Grawe’s estimate). Inventing online alternatives and attracting full-tuition students from abroad is one way of paying the bills, but colleges have been trying both strategies for the past two decades, so the yield may not increase by much.

For the full review, see:

Allen C. Guelzo. “BOOKSHELF; High Cost, Low Yield; A college degree is ever more common these days, but it comes with ever heavier loan burdens and, in many cases, only limited job prospects.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, June 25, 2019): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 24, 2019, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Restoring the Promise’ Review: High Cost, Low Yield; A college degree is ever more common these days, but it comes with ever heavier loan burdens and, in many cases, only limited job prospects.”)

The book under review is:

Vedder, Richard. Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America. Oakland, CA: Independent Institute, 2019.

Rosenwald Philanthropy Aimed at Self-Help More Than Social Change

(p. A15) At the beginning of the 20th century, three figures dominated the rapidly expanding world of American philanthropy. Two—Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller—are still remembered, mostly because of the foundations they established. But the third—Julius Rosenwald—is largely forgotten. No foundations, and few buildings, bear his name. If his approach to giving was more modest in spirit, it was no less influential and effective in its day.

. . .

. . . , Rosenwald invested in a catalog sales company that needed capital: Sears, Roebuck. He gradually became more involved in the business and, when co-founder Richard Sears resigned in 1908, took over its leadership.

. . .

Because the rise and fall of Sears, Roebuck is already well-chronicled, Ms. Diner, a professor of American Jewish history at New York University, concentrates on what Rosenwald did with the status and fortune he accumulated. By one estimate, he donated, in today’s dollars, close to $2 billion before he died in 1932, as well as considerable time to the causes he cared about.

Many of these centered on his hometown of Chicago. Rosenwald’s gifts helped to create the city’s Museum of Science and Industry, build the University of Chicago, and support the settlement houses run by Jane Addams and others. He also underwrote a wide range of Jewish organizations, including cultural institutes, theological seminaries and, most notably, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a fund that was set up during World War I to aid Jewish refugees and that has continued to do so ever since.

The most striking part of Rosenwald’s philanthropy may well be his funding of African-American education in the South. Influenced by Booker T. Washington, he developed a program to construct elementary and secondary schools in any black community that wanted such support. Over a 20-year period, nearly 5,000 schools opened.

. . .

For both Jewish immigrants in the slums of Chicago and black sharecroppers in the rural South, Rosenwald’s philanthropy sought to promote practical efforts at self-improvement, not ambitious plans for social change.

For the full review, see:

Leslie Lenkowsky. “BOOKSHELF; A Catalog of Generosity; His approach to philanthropy sought to promote practical efforts at self-improvement, not ambitious plans for social change.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, Oct. 30, 2017): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 29, 2017, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; Review: A Catalog of Generosity; His approach to philanthropy sought to promote practical efforts at self-improvement, not ambitious plans for social change.”)

The book under review is:

Diner, Hasia R. Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017.

“He Wrote Simple Declarative Sentences That People Could Read”

(p. B16) Steve Dunleavy, a hell-raising Australian who transfused his adrenaline into tabloid newspapers and television as a party crasher to American journalism, died on Monday [June 24, 2019] at his home in Island Park, N.Y.

. . .

He was said to have been the model for Wayne Gale, the manic Australian reporter played by Robert Downey Jr. in Oliver Stone’s 1994 film “Natural Born Killers.” But he gravitated closer to the Runyonesque characters in Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s play “The Front Page” from 1928.

. . .

After the actress Ava Gardner rejected his invitation to be interviewed at a nightclub and threw a glass of champagne in his face, he wrote an article that began: “Last night, I shared a glass of champagne with Ava Gardner. She threw it; I wore it.” Continue reading ““He Wrote Simple Declarative Sentences That People Could Read””

Stephen Moore Was a Threat to Groupthink at Fed

(p. A15) The following declaration may shock many of my academic colleagues: I support the nomination of Stephen Moore to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve.

I say so despite being immersed in the “professor standard” Herman Cain recently decried. I received my doctorate in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and did postdoctoral work at Harvard, was a professor of business economics at the University of Chicago, and for the past 43 years have taught finance at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

The truth is that “professor standards” change. Early models of gross domestic product emphasized John Maynard Keynes’s model of aggregate demand—the amount of goods consumers and businesses’ desire to buy—as the source of national prosperity. Today, the vast majority of economists recognize that it is the supply side—increases in productivity driven by technological innovation—that creates long-term economic growth.

. . .

I’ve been supportive of Fed policy since the financial crisis. But any organization, even a great one, can easily fall victim to groupthink. Continue reading “Stephen Moore Was a Threat to Groupthink at Fed”