Danny Crichton on Innovation, Finance and Foreign Affairshttp://www.dannycrichton.com/2015-06-29T00:00:00-07:00Ranking The World2015-06-29T00:00:00-07:00Danny Crichtontag:www.dannycrichton.com,2015-06-29:blog/2015/06/29/ranking-the-world/<p>One of the on-going projects I am investigating is the use of rankings in society. Rankings are seemingly everywhere -- from college admissions to our workplaces to politics -- and yet, only limited research has been done so far to truly investigate how these rankings are constructed, how they affect the behavior of their subjects, and how they are ultimately used in practice.</p><p>In almost all contexts, an objective ranking does not exist. As part of any process of reducing the complexity of life to a number, there has to be prioritization and summarization of data to create the linearity required for a ranking. Thus, we can see in college rankings different motivations behind their constructions. Should high expenses per student be used to show deep resources, or should resources be compared to student outcomes to highlight universities that are most efficient in teaching their students?</p><p>Rankings are exciting to me not just because they are everywhere, but that they seemingly work. Publications have long ago figured out that rankings attract huge numbers of readers and viewers, and organizations from lobbying shops to the World Bank now use rankings to push for changes by simply publishing some numbers. To me, few actions seem to have more power than compiling these lists.</p><p>This is certainly the case with law schools, which Wendy Espeland and Michael Sauder have investigated extensively in a series of papers. [1] In their research, they show that law schools resisted the initial publishing of rankings for many years, but over time, their effects were imbued into the daily actions of the faculty and staff at these schools. These days, nothing can be done without some reference to US News and what it might do to the rankings.</p><p>I am excited by the publication of a new book on the topic called "<a href="http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/law/socio-legal-studies/quiet-power-indicators-measuring-governance-corruption-and-rule-law">The Quiet Power of Indicators</a>," which was published last month by Cambridge University Press. The book is mostly a vehicle to explore a lot of different types of rankings, such as those from Freedom House and the World Bank. I am hoping to read it in the next few days before I have to give it back to the library.</p><p>I'll publish some more thoughts on this as I read, but I think that no matter who we are, academic or professional, it is worth thinking through how rankings affect our work, and the assumptions that lie behind them.</p><p>[1] Sauder, M, and W N Espeland. “The Discipline of Rankings: Tight Coupling and Organizational Change.” American Sociological Review 74, no. 1 (February 1, 2009): 63–82. doi:10.1177/000312240907400104.</p>Discussion: Lauren Rivera's Pedigree on Elite Students and Elite Jobs2015-06-19T00:00:00-07:00Danny Crichtontag:www.dannycrichton.com,2015-06-19:blog/2015/06/19/discussion-lauren-riveras-pedigree-on-elite-students-and-elite-jobs/<p>I just finished reading <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Pedigree-How-Elite-Students-Jobs/dp/0691155623">Lauren Rivera's <em>Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs</em></a>, and I have to say it was a highly interesting read into the internal dynamics of hiring at what she calls elite professional services (EPS) firms like Goldman Sachs and McKinsey.</p><p>Her argument is simple: while sociologists have heavily focused on elite reproduction through universities (what might be termed the "Harvard" thesis), the reality is actually more complicated. Getting admission to a top school is insufficient to guarantee entrance to the elite. Rather, elites are generated partly as part of the process of entering the labor markets, namely through EPS firms.</p><p>Much of the book is devoted to her fieldwork working at one of these firms and describing each of the stages of the interview process for new graduates. We see constantly that definitions of cultural fit are key to getting hired, and that these definitions tend to be similar (although not identical) to the culture of elites. In other words, firms hire elite students from elite backgrounds not because of their parentage, but because of the social norms and cultural capital those parents provided. In this mission of illuminating inequality at the upper-end of the income spectrum, the book does an admirable job.</p><p>However, I felt the book did not probe deep enough into why these firms hire the way they do. Rivera makes the point that almost none of the EPS firms actually keep track of their applicant data and connect it with actual on-the-job work outcomes, particularly at law firms where interviews were entirely unstructured. How do they get away with this? <a href="http://techcrunch.com/2014/11/16/meet-your-new-boss-mr-algorithm/s">Having written about one startup in this space</a>, why have competitors been unable to disrupt this industry (at least so far)?</p><p>The answer is sort of lurking in the book: these jobs just aren't that difficult. Or perhaps more carefully, these jobs are part of a pipeline, where the vast majority of knowledge is gleaned as one travels through it. The only "requirement" to start down the pipeline is the cultural fit needed to work on these teams (i.e. just getting hired). Everything else can essentially be learned on the job.</p><p>All of this status making on the part of these firms is designed to hide this basic fact. Everyone sort of knows this when you hire a McKinsey engagement for a few hundred thousand or a few million and get one senior engagement manager and a couple of green business analysts. This is a large part of the argument made by <a href="http://www.amazon.com/The-Management-Myth-Debunking-Philosophy/dp/0393338525">Matthew Stewart in his book <em>The Management Myth</em></a>.</p><p>And yet, companies do it anyway.</p><p>What every one of these EPS firms is trading on is ambiguity. A company CEO is about to make a consequential market decision. A cheap consulting firm can probably answer the question for a small price, but since it is an important question, we must spend more to ensure that the answer is absolutely correct.</p><p>Similarly, a startup wants to go to an IPO. It probably can be crowdsourced, or at least done in a novel way. <a href="http://www.cnbc.com/id/101912149">Google had all kinds of hiccups with their IPO process</a> when the company decided to use a Dutch auction, but in the end, did any of that really matter to the health of the company? There is risk and ambiguity involved, and so of course we naturally head to the bulge bracket investment banks because we don't want to take the risk that something might go wrong.</p><p>Although the EPS element isn't here, this logic also applies to the debacle that was Obamacare. <a href="http://www.fastcompany.com/3046756/obama-and-his-geeks">The government has now built a digital service team</a> that is designed to efficiently provide IT services to government agencies at a fraction of the cost of contractors. As Mikey Dickerson, one of these tech mavens, described to FastCompany about Obamacare's rollout:</p><blockquote><p>"They set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to build a website because it was a big, important website. But compare that to Twitter, which took three rounds of funding before it got to about the same number of users as ­Healthcare.gov—8 million to 10 million users. In those three rounds of funding, the whole thing added up to about $60 million.</p></blockquote><p>In my mind, among the most important challenges of this century for startups is how to get past this mindset. People automatically conflate price with quality, without doing any more critical analysis. In fact, we probably do more critical analysis choosing between two Indian lunch buffets. In business, where failures can be career-ruining, we immediately run to the most expensive service provider.</p><p>If we are ever going to break these incumbent players (and break them we should), we are going to have to help consumers and business decision-makers truly rethink how they buy services. This start with simply believing that the performance of these sorts of services can be measured, and that there is value in keeping costs low, even when decisions are consequential.</p><p>One of the reasons that algorithms are beating humans is simply that this ambiguity is no less with the computer than with the flesh. We can no better judge McKinsey's performance than we can a computer's, they both appear to the observer to be something of a black box. In my view, this is one of the critical reasons why computers are making such headway into professional services these days (along with their price competitiveness).</p><p>I'm glad that pipelines for training still exist in many EPS firms, and wish more people had access to them. But for all of the talk about recruiting, the real message lies later, in the actual work that these firms do (and really don't). Elite reproduction is an important phenomenon, but the real story lies further down the pipeline.</p>What I'm Working On (June 2015)2015-06-15T00:00:00-07:00Danny Crichtontag:www.dannycrichton.com,2015-06-15:blog/2015/06/15/what-im-working-on-june-2015/<p>I am starting a new monthly post where I share what I have been working on what I am hoping to work on shortly. This is the first edition. If you see something you think is interesting, don't hesitate to email me.</p><p><strong>Research</strong></p><ul><li><p>I posted <a href="/research/papers/Darpa.pdf">a copy of a working paper</a> I did as a term paper for Economics of Science. The paper looks at the Pentagon's research budget over the past twenty years, and how it has moved money between basic and applied science. One really interesting facet of the budget data is just how large of an impact presidential initiatives have on this budget (one example: the Bush missile shield). This was sort of a side project, but I think the data is interesting, and there are lots of opportunities for follow ups if anyone is interested.</p></li><li><p>I am doing a historical study of the rise of public policy schools and their curriculums. One example of this research is a post I wrote two weeks ago about <a href="/blog/2015/06/02/why-public-policy-professionals-so-often-have-the-wrong-answers/">how economics became the center of public policy</a> due to its perceived legitimacy within Harvard. I am really interested in epistemology in public policy, and why we continue to use a narrow set of tools rather than a richer one.</p></li><li><p>My larger research project looks at the creation, dissemination, and growth of rankings and other ordinal measures of performance. As quantification becomes increasingly popular in everything from business to politics, I believe there needs to be increasing skepticism and critical analysis of precisely how these measures get created and used. This is part of a long discourse on power and knowledge. One great new book on this is <a href="http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/law/socio-legal-studies/quiet-power-indicators-measuring-governance-corruption-and-rule-law"><em>The Quiet Power of Indicators</em></a> which discusses how indicators like Freedom House's came into being and how they are used today.</p></li><li><p>A smaller project off of rankings is looking at how machine learning may be used in public policy, and what assumptions are built into specific algorithms. I am also considering novel uses of ML algorithms for policy, such as in immigration.</p></li></ul><p><strong>Teaching</strong></p><p>I am teaching an undergraduate class on startups and entrepreneurship next month. I'll place the syllabus and materials once they are fully fleshed out.</p><p><strong>Writing</strong></p><p>As always, I continue to write a lot for TechCrunch. Some highlights include the <a href="http://techcrunch.com/2015/06/06/you-cant-handle-the-truth/">challenge of analyzing truth on the internet</a> these days and <a href="http://techcrunch.com/2015/05/23/algocracy/">how algorithms are reshaping politics</a>. My most popular posts were on <a href="http://techcrunch.com/2015/05/30/millennial-banks/">millennials and banking</a> as well as a piece on <a href="http://techcrunch.com/2015/05/17/why-is-the-university-still-here/">why the university is still here</a>.</p><p>This month, I am hoping to do some stories on machine learning in politics, as well as new securitization models and other innovations (or lack thereof) in fintech.</p><p><strong>Learning</strong></p><ul><li><p>I am preparing my reading lists for economic sociology, tournament models in labor economics, quantification studies, among other topics. Would love to see some more recent papers in these fields that people find interesting.</p></li><li><p>I continue to spend time learning Korean. A few resources I have recently found to be quite helpful. One is <a href="http://mykoreanstore.com/collections/featured-items/products/news-in-korean-subscription">Talk To Me In Korean's "News in Korean" subscription</a>, which sends three short articles a week in Korean along with audio readings of them. Two books that have been helpful are the <a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=2gmJAgAAQBAJ">Common Sense Dictionary of Global Economy</a> and the <a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=-gQLu-5TZFkC">Common Sense Dictionary of Politics</a>. Excellent resources and practice for learning political and economic vocabulary.</p></li></ul><p><strong>Other</strong></p><p>I am going to co-edit the Harvard Kennedy School's student newspaper next year.</p>Haiti and the Importance of Area Studies in Development2015-06-05T00:00:00-07:00Danny Crichtontag:www.dannycrichton.com,2015-06-05:blog/2015/06/05/haiti-and-the-importance-of-area-studies-in-development/<p>ProPublica's report on the Red Cross' <a href="https://www.propublica.org/article/how-the-red-cross-raised-half-a-billion-dollars-for-haiti-and-built-6-homes">horrific mismanagement of aid dollars in Haiti</a> should not be surprising to anyone who has followed development studies over the past two decades (and really, the antecedents go much further back).</p><p>The quotes though don't get much worse than this:</p><blockquote><p>One issue that has hindered the Red Cross’ work in Haiti is an overreliance on foreigners who could not speak French or Creole, current and former employees say.</p></blockquote><p>And</p><blockquote><p>None of that ever happened. Carline Noailles, who was the project’s manager in Washington, said it was endlessly delayed because the Red Cross “didn’t have the know-how.”</p></blockquote><p>And </p><blockquote><p>“They collected nearly half a billion dollars,” said a congressional staffer who helped oversee Haiti reconstruction. “But they had a problem. And the problem was that they had absolutely no expertise.”</p></blockquote><p>And </p><blockquote><p>“Going to meetings with the community when you don’t speak the language is not productive,” she said. Sometimes, she recalled, expat staffers would skip such meetings altogether.</p></blockquote><p>Ad nauseum.</p><p>This is exactly the sort of situation that we can expect when development studies ignores the importance of actual situational knowledge of the land in which an aid organization operates. Yet, academic programs focused on development eschew area studies in favor of economics, since these are "practical" skills that are supposedly "universal."</p><p>Economics is actually the easy part of developing a country. It's obvious (in most cases) what the problems are: chronic lack of housing, chronic malnourishment, bad sanitation, poor infrastructure, and the list goes on. The hard part is going from objectives to actual actions on the ground where culture and local dynamics will play the decisive role in the success or failure of the mission.</p><p>The world needs far more people who are attuned to the local sensitivities of the regions of the world, not more bureaucrats capable of using Excel.</p><p>It's not just the fault of universities though, since the pathways to the top posts in these organizations rarely are based off of actual local knowledge, but rather academic knowledge. Specializing in a region means resigning yourself to never moving up in an international development organization, since it is those universal skills that are so prized.</p><p>We need to actively seek out and encourage people who actually know how to operate locally to succeed internationally. That's the only way to avoid spending half a billion dollars and see it materialize in the form of six houses like in Haiti.</p>Why Public Policy Professionals So Often Have The Wrong Answers2015-06-02T00:00:00-07:00Danny Crichtontag:www.dannycrichton.com,2015-06-02:blog/2015/06/02/why-public-policy-professionals-so-often-have-the-wrong-answers/<p>There are increasing criticisms of the public policy field from both the right and the left. The left criticizes public policy schools for inadequately addressing issues like inequality (Thomas Piketty's work comes to mind) or justice in places such as Baltimore or Ferguson. The right is concerned that public policy schools emphasize solutions led by governments rather than a more balanced mix of public and private options.</p><p>Both sides are correct: public policy schools aren't equipping their students for the modern world. Part of the challenge is that public policy schools are remarkably narrow in their disciplines. Professors in public policy schools come predominantly from economics, which means that normative questions are avoided and there is a large emphasis on model building at the expense of, well, actual policy.</p><p>I have been curious how we ended up with this situation, so I spent some time this summer dredging up the history of the field.</p><p>Before I get to some findings though, a brief aside. I really love how academic knowledge becomes legitimate in the eyes of other scholars. My undergraduate thesis was on the intellectual development of computer science, and one of the main results that came from that research is that the first CS professors in the 1960s were under constant attack from other disciplines in the natural sciences. This led them to (eventually) focus on the algorithm as the key area of research in the field, in order to prove the discipline's legitimacy inside the university.</p><p>These wars were so bad, that Stanford's CS department, for instance, didn't create an undergraduate major in the field for almost two decades, lest the department be considered less worthy by other academics. The substitute major during that period was actually Mathematical and Computational Sciences -- my major in college.</p><p>So I wasn't surprised when I found much the same was true with public policy, especially at Harvard.</p><p>Harvard has had an interesting relationship with public policy over the years. The current Harvard Business School was originally envisioned as a combined business and public policy school (the sensibilities in the early 1900s were such that business was not considered appropriate for the university, and so public policy would help to clean up the image). That plan didn't work out, and it would take another three decades for a school to materialize.</p><p>Harvard's grad school in public policy started in the 1930s, and became a constant source of embarrassment for the university for the next three decades, consistently ranked far lower than its other professional schools. By the 1960s, the school was at serious risk of closure due to its poor performance, with the university president of the time declaring it one of his "greatest disappointments."</p><p>The death of President John F. Kennedy would change that direction dramatically, with the public policy school renamed in his honor. The school was rejuvenated by a set of distinguished faculty who placed a renewed focus on getting students into policy to commemorate Kennedy's legacy. Increased fundraising (of course) helped as well.</p><p>In those early years, building a curriculum was not at all clear. At Harvard, competition to the public policy school came from the Government and Economics departments, who were making a strong turn toward quantification starting in the 1960s and 1970s. Additionally, quantitative skills were in vogue during the Vietnam War, with Secretary of Defense McNamara leading the charge.</p><p>To compete, the Kennedy School required that students take classes in economics, statistics, and decision sciences, requirements that continue to form the bedrock of the school's curriculum today.</p><p>Graham Allison, an early faculty member and later dean of the school, described in a reflection why the curriculum used those fields. "These tools came from demanding social science disciplines, and helped give the curriculum of the fledgling public policy school a certain kind of legitimacy in the academic world in which they were struggling for academic respect." [1]</p><p>Carefully note the reasoning for why we study economics in public policy, versus say, history, sociology, anthropology, or any number of other human-centric fields. The selections were not made because the tools were necessarily the best to study public affairs. They were selected because they would get the most respect from the other faculty at Harvard.</p><p>Given Harvard's influence in academia, much of public policy today is based in economics and quantitative social science.</p><p>Considering that these sorts of curriculums were first designed almost fifty years ago, it is almost certainly time to reconsider what makes up the curriculum of public policy schools to ensure they match the needs of students in the modern world.</p><p>That probably doesn't mean throwing out economics, which does have a strong toolbox for the policy professional. However, there are other skills that would also seem to be relevant but are not widely taught today, including data visualization, coding, social media and participatory government, as well as area studies. There is quite a list, enough to question whether a public policy "core" can even truly exist.</p><p>One of the interesting things when you dive into academic disciplines is just how much the decisions around research areas and curriculums can derive from parochial interests. It's time to reopen a dialogue in public policy and rejuvenate policy studies.</p><p><strong>Sources</strong></p><ol><li>Allison, Graham. “Emergence of Schools of Public Policy: Reflections of a Founding Dean.” In The Oxford Handbook of Public Policy, 58–79, OUP Oxford, 2008.</li></ol>Tips are wrong and should be banned2015-05-22T00:00:00-07:00Danny Crichtontag:www.dannycrichton.com,2015-05-22:blog/2015/05/22/tips-are-wrong-and-should-be-banned/<p>The NYT recently ran a great long-form story on the plight of nail salon workers (<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/10/nyregion/at-nail-salons-in-nyc-manicurists-are-underpaid-and-unprotected.html?_r=0">Part 1</a> and <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/11/nyregion/nail-salon-workers-in-nyc-face-hazardous-chemicals.html">Part 2</a>] The main gist of the story is that nail salons, facing incredible competition in recent years, have decreased pay for workers far below any semblance of a minimum wage. Oftentimes, workers don't get paid at all for their first few months of service until they have "proven" themselves to their owners.</p><p>One aspect of this story really annoys me, and that is the issue surrounding tips. Nail salons, like many other personal care industries, rely on a tipping culture that systematically underpays workers, complicates regulations, and encourages discrimination. Tipping should be phased out immediately throughout the United States.</p><p>Under our current labor regulations, employers in establishments with tipping are required to pay a base wage that is below minimum wage, with the idea that tips will fill in the gap. When wages plus tips fall below minimum wage, owners are supposed to make up the difference to guarantee that workers are paid appropriately.</p><p>Of course, this is where the complications in the regulations start, because calculating tips and minimum wages in order to follow the law is not at all clear in these contexts, particularly in personal care establishments with notoriously poor record keeping.</p><p>I focus on simplifying labor rules since this can have benefits both for employees (who can understand their rights better) as well as employers (easier accounting and more clarity over who is owed what). Tipping and the legal complications around it is just another example where the law has been written to create litigation and costs. This was also the theme of the article I wrote in <a href="https://www.nationalreview.com/nrd/articles/397921/time-card-app">the National Review a few weeks ago about wage theft</a>.</p><p>I want every person providing me service to have a minimum wage, without relying on me to add an extra dollar to my receipt or into the tip jar.</p><p>The problems with tipping go beyond simply the levels of wages, but also their variability. One reason that tips are used is that it allows owners base worker pay on actual revenues rather than projected revenues. The more that wages come from tips, the more that expenses and revenues are aligned for an owner, but at the expense of the certainty of wages for the employee. Since tipped-compensated workers are often those who can least weather the variability in their income, it would seem prudent to replace tips with wages.</p><p>Beyond the economics of the situation though, tips have a variety of other problems. They can be hard to calculate, and the culture around tipping can be complex even for Americans to understand. Furthermore, there is a master/servant relationship taking place in these tips, which is among the reasons why they are relatively uncommon in much of Europe and Asia.</p><p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, tips don't really affect service quality. As any economist will explain, tipping after service is useless since the service has already been rendered. Since a worker has no idea how a new customer is going to tip, they don't have an incentive to put in extra effort. (There is an old economist story that someone traveling out of town should never tip, since tipping is more about repeated future service than a reward for past service.)</p><p>Thus, we have this practice that looks like improving service, but is really about increasing the burdens on workers while simultaneously increasing the complexity of employment laws and complicating government enforcement.</p><p>Tipping is one of those societal vestiges that for some reason just doesn't seem to want to die. The good news is that Silicon Valley companies realized long ago that tipping was harmful to the consumer experience, and has mostly eliminated the practice from its product. It's well past time that everyone else followed through.</p>Should America Move To A Test-Based College Admissions System?2015-05-19T00:00:00-07:00Danny Crichtontag:www.dannycrichton.com,2015-05-19:blog/2015/05/19/should-america-move-to-a-test-based-college-admissions-system/<p>The politics of college admissions continues to fascinate me. This past week, <a href="http://www.buzzfeed.com/emaoconnor/asian-american-groups-file-discrimination-complaint#.eyllJRYMa">a group of Asian-American students sued Harvard University</a>, arguing that the school discriminates against them by keeping "quotas" for the number of Asian students allowed through the ivy-covered gates.</p><p>The statistical evidence, at least based on SAT scores, is pretty strong. Studies have shown that admitted Asian students have higher SAT scores than other racial groups, implying that the bar for admission is higher for them. We also have natural experiments in California -- where affirmative action was banned -- and the percentage of Asian students in University of California schools rose dramatically.</p><p>Those with an eye on history would know that university admissions relies on a "holistic" process. The design of that process was spearheaded by Harvard, Yale, and Princeton almost a century ago as a means of preventing academically-successful Jewish students from entering these bastions of Protestant thought. (For a really, really long historical take on this, read <em>The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion</em> by Jerome Kerabel).</p><p>I cannot support the current model of holistic admissions given this history. So necessarily, one has to look for alternatives, and the obvious choice is a college entrance exam model, used by countries throughout the world including Korea, China, Japan, France, and much of the Commonwealth nations.</p><p>These models are fundamentally more fair and democratic, ensuring that in societies where relationships are often more important than numbers, that fairness reigns supreme.</p><p>There are two main strains of argument against this model. The first is that it narrows education to exclusively book learning, at the expense of the arts and athletics that are a hallmark of an American education. The other is that these systems are not fair, since access to resources to study for the exam are not evenly available.</p><p>On the first, I think part of the problem with the US education system is precisely how <em>little</em> value we place on academics compared to everything else. This may not be true in high-powered high schools like Stuyvesant or Palo Alto High, but seems to be typical in much of the rest of the country.</p><p>Furthermore, in a country in which states are continuing to reject globally-competitive curriculums (Common Core or otherwise), a college entrance exam model can be an impetus to maintain a high quality education program for students.</p><p>On the second point, I think critics are being narrow in their conception of the cost of admissions. Test prep costs money, sure, but so do music lessons, sports clinics, and art classes that are essentially <em>de rigueur</em> in our current model. Parents assume that having an international trip on a resume is helpful in admissions, and so we see scores of high school students headed to exotic locations to help their admissions chances. At least with a test, means are not the primary thing being measured -- academic knowledge and thinking is. </p><p>I am not saying that we wouldn't create new problems in our bid to solve old ones. But I do think we need to accept that the current holistic admissions model was designed to be discriminatory, and remains discriminatory today. A simpler system built around a well-understood test would be, in my view, a step forward.</p>Foreign Languages Are Boring To Learn, So How Do We Make It Easier?2015-05-17T00:00:00-07:00Danny Crichtontag:www.dannycrichton.com,2015-05-17:blog/2015/05/17/foreign-languages-are-boring-to-learn-so-how-do-we-make-it-easier/<p>I have been a lifelong foreign language learner. I studied French in high school, Arabic in my freshman year of college (which by now is almost completely forgotten in the recesses of my brain), and then Chinese and Korean since sophomore year. Of these, Korean is probably the most advanced, followed by French, although I don't read it very often anymore in my research.</p><p>There is a wide belief that learning languages is impossible as an adult. If you challenge people on this, then they argue something about how adults can never be "native" speakers of the language if they didn't start learning as kids. The latter is probably true, but then, I can get into arguments with almost anyone about authenticity and accents (the obsession with Parisian French at the expense of every other accent, for instance).</p><p>But adults do have a tougher time learning foreign languages. The usual reasons given are lack of time due to other commitments and the fact that adults are less willing to make mistakes than kids, and thus, are unwilling to practice the language as frequently.</p><p>One argument I almost never hear though is that learning a language as an adult is just sheer boring.</p><p>Really, the language materials we use today in foreign language training are anything but practical and interesting. In every single language book I have ever been assigned, we have learned words and phrases about registering for courses, giving directions, eating food, etc. Never once have we learned anything substantive about politics, economics, or society.</p><p>This is such a shame. One of the benefits that adult foreign language learners bring to the table is their experience with current events and their opinions. Yet, we force them to leave behind all of their knowledge and start talking like a kid again. This is what always threw me off from learning languages: I just didn't care about the content, and that is really the only way for me to maintain my motivation.</p><p>When we finally change this picture, it is amazing how quickly language learning can take place.</p><p>After many runs to the bookstores in Seoul, I finally found two books in Korean this year that are perfect for language learning. The two are from a series called "common sense dictionaries," with one focusing on global economics and the other on politics. Each book has about one hundred 2-3 page entries, explaining topics in some detail.</p><p>For instance, one of the topics I learned about was quantitative easing (양적완화 in Korean in case you are curious). For an intermediate learner, such vocabulary probably sounds ridiculous, considering I sometimes forget the word for grass. </p><p>But here is the thing: I read about economics all the time, and so when I read the entry about quantitative easing, it made a lot of sense to me, even though I didn't know a lot of the vocabulary. Contextual clues were hugely helpful, since I know the kinds of vocabulary to expect from reading these sorts of topics in English.</p><p>Similarly, when I hired a tutor in Korea last year, I had the same rule about content, and so I spent most of the time describing the system of American government and current political news. Suddenly, I was making mistakes in the language and learning, because I knew what I wanted to say, and was willing to venture and try building the correct sentences to communicate that.</p><p>I wish there were more language materials in every language that took advantage of that sort of curiosity and desire for specialization. I would rather be able to hold a debate about a political topic in a foreign language than be another tourist asking for directions. That's what adults who are globally minded are probably reading anyway.</p><p>At the beginning of the last school year, I tested into Harvard's pre-advanced track for Korean. During the oral interview, I was asked to describe something meaningful to me, and so I described some of the current events going on in Korea. The teacher said that my skill surprised her, and that I was probably not going to enjoy language instruction at Harvard because it really focuses on Kpop (ostensibly due to popular demand). I ended up just independently studying the language instead.</p><p><a href="http://techcrunch.com/2015/05/17/why-is-the-university-still-here/">As with my article today on TechCrunch about education startups</a>, we need to do a better job in foreign language training of understanding our users and providing them the skills they actually are looking for. Adults are not kids, and the materials that are going to be enjoyed by one are probably not going to be enjoyed by the other. There is a lot of low hanging fruit here for a company to provide these sorts of resources.</p>The World Bank's Greatest Future Threat2015-04-01T00:00:00-07:00Danny Crichtontag:www.dannycrichton.com,2015-04-01:blog/2015/04/01/the-world-banks-greatest-future-threat/<p>It goes without saying that there are a lot of foreign policy challenges on the Obama administration's radar screen. Negotiations with Iran are reaching their final make-or-break point, ISIS continues to roam throughout Iraq and Syria, and relations with Israel are at their nadir. There is another issue though that has now boiled over that risks the long-term engagement of the United States with Asia.</p><p>Due its weak standing in both the IMF and the World Bank, <a href="http://www.vox.com/2015/4/1/8311921/asian-infrastructure-investment-bank">China created the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank</a> as an alternative international financial institution to engage more heavily in overseas development. The United States responded by criticizing the new bank and urging its allies to avoid joining. At issue is whether the governance standards for projects run by the new bank will be as high as those at the World Bank.</p><p>Now, <a href="http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/94728d96-d82f-11e4-ba53-00144feab7de.html">almost 50 nations have joined or have applied to join</a>, including France, Germany, the UK, South Korea, and Australia. Only Japan and the United States seem to be left outside of the new organization, a travesty of strategy in Asia that will take serious time to undo.</p><p>This all might be okay for now, since Japan essentially runs the Asia Development Bank and the United States, the World Bank. The new bank's budget today is relatively minuscule compared to the traditional development institutions.</p><p>My concern though is that over time, the AIIB has the potential to be massively more effective in its projects than the World Bank, further eroding the United States' standing in the world. We have all seen China's rise over the past few decades, with massive infrastructure investments built in incredibly short periods of time, fueled by the power of an authoritarian government.</p><p>With lower governance standards and Beijing's motivation to see the bank succeed, there is little doubt in my mind that the AIIB's projects will move along faster than those of the World Bank. As it starts to demonstrate superior results, nations across the world will start to consider where their money is going for development work. High governance standards are great PR, but even better PR is a completed highway or bridge. The AIIB, predominantly controlled by China, will increasingly siphon money away from the World Bank, harming the U.S. position in the international order.</p><p>The only hope is that the new bank gets the World Bank to think a bit more about the challenges in its model of development and forces it to accelerate its studies and projects. Competition can be a good thing, but these are very risky times for the United States.</p><p>One thing is clear: this has been a brilliant strategic move by China. The United States needs to work on its strategy in Asia, and fast.</p>Hillary Clinton, Brian Williams, and the Issue of Military Trust2015-02-09T00:00:00-08:00Danny Crichtontag:www.dannycrichton.com,2015-02-09:blog/2015/02/09/hillary-clinton-brian-williams-and-the-issue-of-military-trust/<p>By now, everyone is familiar with the story of Brian Williams, the NBC News anchor who is taking some time off after coming under fire (not literally, apparently) for inaccuracies in a story about being shot down over Iraq. A second round of stories this weekend noted that <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/brian-williams-is-not-alone--hillary-clinton--stephen-glass-and-other-famous-fabrications-200635601.html">Hillary Clinton, among other notables</a>, has also been caught making similar comments over the years.</p><p>One direction for the analysis of this situation has been to take a critical look at the production of U.S. media these days. <a href="http://www.pakman.com/2015/02/06/brian-williams-and-abundance-vs-scarcity-in-media/">David Pakman's post about abundance versus scarcity</a> has been getting a lot of attention. His argument is familiar, "Brands built in the age of scarcity take significant risks when they use celebrities (or any one individual) to act as a proxy for their products." This is in contrast to online media, where "brands are built by the stories brands tell and the content they share." Facebook doesn't have an anchor problem.</p><p>But that media criticism doesn't explain why so many notable people have made up stories involving the military.</p><p>I want to take a different view of the situation by looking at the trust that Americans have in their leading institutions. For many years, <a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/1597/confidence-institutions.aspx">Gallup has run polls asking about "confidence in institutions"</a>. These surveys are interesting because they can show the American public's changing relationship with various parts of our society.</p><p>In their current chart, Gallup lists 16 different institutions. By far the most trusted institution in the United States is the military, with 74% of respondents indicating that they trust the armed forces a great deal or quite a lot. The bottom two institutions are Congress (with ~6%) and television news (with 18%).</p><p>Hillary Clinton was a member of the US Senate when she made her comments about coming under sniper fire. Brian Williams was the anchor of one of the top television news organizations in the United States. Is it any surprise then that both have attempted to grab some level of confidence from the public by expanding beyond their own institution and attempting to "touch" one far more trusted?</p><p>These sorts of stories are not going to be rare. In a world where trust in American society remains quite low, the incentives to try to burnish our images remain quite high. Some level of vigilance is required from the public, but more importantly, some humility is required of those who ask to serve us in the media and in politics. After all, there is a reason why these institutions have such low trust.</p>No, Algorithms Don't Devalue Humans2015-01-27T00:00:00-08:00Danny Crichtontag:www.dannycrichton.com,2015-01-27:blog/2015/01/27/no-algorithms-dont-devalue-humans/<p>I read Ian Bogost's essay in the Atlantic called "<a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/01/the-cathedral-of-computation/384300/">The Cathedral of Computation</a>" a week ago, but it still annoys me. Bogost argues that our obsession with algorithms everywhere in the labor economy undermines the very human aspects of labor that we should not be ignoring.</p><p>His argument is that behind every algorithm is a human organization doing the actual work required to make a product or service function. "... just as the machine metaphor gives us a distorted view of automated manufacture as prime mover, so the algorithmic metaphor gives us a distorted, theological view of computational action."</p><p>Take Netflix, for example. Bogost writes that, "Netflix trains people to watch films, and those viewers laboriously tag the films with lots of metadata, including ratings of factors like sexually suggestive content or plot closure. [...] Yes, there’s a computer program matching viewing habits to a database of film properties. But the overall work of the Netflix recommendation system is distributed amongst so many different systems, actors, and processes that only a zealot would call the end result an algorithm."</p><p>Bogost's central point is that we are using algorithms as a sort of theology, much as science has been used as a theology the last few decades. It allows us to abbreviate our thinking and avoid the sometimes harsh behind-the-scenes processes that consumers would rather avoid when thinking about who makes their products or what allows their services to be successful.</p><p>Bogost has a point, but I don't think algorithms undermine our discussions of the modern labor force, nor do algorithms devalue human work.</p><p>I use the algorithm economy as a short hand to describe a very specific set of changes to the economy, most notably the rise of network-mediated marketplaces like Uber and Airbnb. Neither system, or indeed, the vast majority of labor marketplaces, obscure who is doing the work. Indeed, the algorithms underlying these marketplaces are not so different from the invisible hand "algorithm" of traditional marketplaces.</p><p>Algorithm may be a fancy word, but it isn't like the Netflix example is that different from, say, the development of a dictionary or encyclopedia done over a century ago. Someone had to write all of those entries and edit them, even though none of those workers were on the front cover (except Samuel Johnson of course). The invisibility of the work behind a product is hardly a recent development.</p><p>Society severed the link between worker and product many years ago, going all the way back to the start of the Industrial Revolution (and maybe even further back). Product brands used to be individual names, but today they are disembodied and independent.</p><p>Interestingly, algorithms and these network economies are actually helping to regenerate the connection between workers and products. We no longer need to scale up to the same levels to provide products, and there is now greater demand for personalized, custom-made products. The rise of neo-craftsmen which has been discussed ad nauseam is fundamentally a positive benefit derived from better labor marketplaces, and ultimately, smarter algorithms.</p><p>Algorithms are not devaluing labor, but they are extending old models and building new ones. Some of those models are improvements for workers, others are more neutral. We have the opportunity to shape that progression, and that is the strength of the algorithm economy today.</p>Does Cable News Even Matter Anymore?2015-01-23T00:00:00-08:00Danny Crichtontag:www.dannycrichton.com,2015-01-23:blog/2015/01/23/does-cable-news-even-matter-anymore/<p>Have you seen the ratings for cable news channels these days? They aren't looking good, and are almost pathetic next to the ratings the channels received even just a few years ago.</p><p><a href="http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2015/01/21/cable-news-ratings-for-monday-january-19-2015/353199/">Take a look at the ratings for just one day</a>, Monday January 19. In daytime ratings, Fox led other networks by a healthy margin with an average viewership of 1,231,000 compared to CNN's 442,000, MSNBC's 320,000 and CNBC's 205,000. Ratings are higher for primetime, with Fox almost doubling its viewership to 2.1 million, and CNN getting 536,000, MSNBC 688,000 and CNBC 451,000. These ratings are fairly typical for the respective channels.</p><p>Take a moment to think about this. These supposedly "highly-influential" channels are barely squeaking out a handful of million viewers for Fox, and don't even top one million viewers for the other cable news channels. O'Reilly Factor still leads all cable shows with more than three million viewers in its first slot, with another million during its late night rerun, but other shows are much more variable in performance.</p><p>To make even a stronger point here, cable news rarely draws in middle-of-the-road viewers who are trying to decide what side of the aisle to vote on. Fox and MSNBC in particular are partisan channels that provide red meat (or maybe vegan burgers in the case of MSNBC?) to their viewers. That means that not only are these channels barely able to eke out a small viewership, but they are doing so mostly to partisan diehards.</p><p>And yet, the public, comedians, and particularly politicians continue to portray these stations as deeply influential. Nowhere was that point more obvious than over <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/20/world/europe/fox-news-becomes-unwilling-star-of-french-tv-show.html">Fox's mistake over the "Muslim no-go" spaces in France and England</a> that the station <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/19/world/europe/fox-news-apologizes-for-false-claims-of-muslim-only-areas-in-england-and-france.html?_r=0">ended up having to apologize for</a>. Media sites across the country covered it, often on their front pages. It was a massive screwup, but did it deserve quite this level of attention?</p><p>Now, there is a very large caveat to this point, which is that while the channels may not be influential, their associated websites are and help to drive social media. Even here though, I think there is a big gap between our impressions and the reality. Fox News may be one of the largest news sites in the world, but it also ferociously competes on the right with sites like Breitbart and RedState. MSNBC has a popular portal, but competes with HuffPost and others on the left. Their sites are not unimportant, but neither are they dominant in their categories.</p><p>This wasn't always the case. It may be just beyond the memories of my generation, but Fox was tremendously influential in the early years of the Bush administration. But that influence is simply not what it was at its zenith, and we need to adjust our thinking accordingly.</p>Why We Should be Concerned About Fact-Checking Websites2015-01-20T00:00:00-08:00Danny Crichtontag:www.dannycrichton.com,2015-01-20:blog/2015/01/20/why-we-should-be-concerned-about-fact-checking-websites/<p>Fact checking is a popular sport, both in traditional print newspapers and online. Rather than reading news or opinion, we get something far more pleasing – seeing a politician brought down by a statement that was later proven by a group of writers to be false. Democracy is in action, and we can all feel smug knowing that the most powerful in our society have to be as responsive to the truth as we are.</p><p>Or do they? While fact checking is a crucial part of journalism, it should not be narrowed to merely fact checking what people say. That's why this trend of fact-checking websites is starting to alarm me. <a href="http://www.niemanlab.org/2015/01/fact-checking-sites-continue-to-grow-in-number-around-the-world/">Neiman Lab quotes researchers at Duke</a> saying that the number of fact check websites has grown even more in the last few months – up to about 89 total, and 64 consistently active (check my facts!)</p><p>There is satisfaction in tearing apart a politician's speech and finding gaping holes in it, but we have to be cautious at just how responsive investigative journalism is. Fact checking is a relatively cheap check on power –- it by and large doesn't require interviews, in-depth field work, or long-term commitment of resources. In some cases, a simple Google search is all that is required as proof that a particular statement is off-balance.</p><p>Unfortunately, fact checking is also only responsive to the discussions of politicians and business executives, and doesn't go beyond their statements. Like the old Drunkard's Search problem ("why are you searching for your keys at the lamppost?", "because that is where the light is"), fact checking speeches transfers all the power to speakers who can then control what gets debated and what does not. If you don't want anyone to investigate school finances, for instance, simply don't mention it and no one will fact check or investigate it. Journalists are providing no real check on who drives the conversation of the day.</p><p>I get worried because fact-checking is economically cheap yet lucrative, since page views are often quite high for these sorts of stories. Voters like the seeming accountability of fact-checking, but don't seem to realize that a fact in a speech is not where power lies. As newsrooms continue to face financial pressure, we need to protect the sort of core investigative work that ensures that media still acts as the fourth branch of government.</p>Three Short Thoughts on Doing a PhD2015-01-16T00:00:00-08:00Danny Crichtontag:www.dannycrichton.com,2015-01-16:blog/2015/01/16/three-short-thoughts-on-doing-a-phd/<p>January is that time after application season is over, and friends and acquaintances start doing a double-take on their life decisions. "Should I actually be going to business school?" (maybe). "Should I actually go to law school?" (Hell no!) But the question that seems to elicit the most conflicted feelings is always graduate school, and particularly PhD programs.</p><p>It goes without saying that PhD degrees have been under fire, from a whole host of sources. And yet, I am in one, quite happy, and couldn't imagine doing almost any other degree. Considering this is my first year, and most students and my advisor have strongly said this is the worst year by far (due to all the course requirements), I take this as a good sign. Here are some thoughts for those who are thinking through their path.</p><p><strong>If you don't understand the job market for PhDs, you are (truly) an idiot</strong></p><p>That's blunt, but really, there is no excuse in 2014 not to fully understand the job market for PhD holders. If you want to work at a research university, you will work anywhere in the country in which a job is being offered, since there may only be three jobs in your entire field in a given year. You will not necessarily live near a major global city, and indeed, you may live in a terrible suburb in the middle of nowhere. That's how it is.</p><p>If you are looking to get married and need to get two jobs in one location, good luck. If you aren't prepared for the massive work it takes in a job search to secure one of these jobs (which easily takes the bulk of the last year of a PhD, and possibly additional years beyond that), then what exactly are you doing applying?</p><p>The job market for PhDs in academia has been horrific since the 1980s. If you are even thinking of applying to a PhD program, you have the reasoning capacity to look up the data and understand what the next two decades of your life will be like. Go into these things eyes wide open, and don't become cynical because "no one told me" or you rely on admissions materials (i.e. marketing) to make your life decisions.</p><p><strong>There is a massive difference between fields. Choose wisely.</strong></p><p>I am quite sympathetic to my colleagues over in the sciences, who have such a different graduate school experience from the social sciences. Long hours in the lab, terrible management and mentorship, fights over publication credit, strange machinations to prevent the top students from graduating, and more are just some of the average experiences in the wet sciences. It is really quite hellish, and almost universal.</p><p>My program, which is the PhD in Public Policy at the Kennedy School, is quite different. Like most social science graduate degrees, it is quite hands-off, and allows students immense flexibility to design the research agenda that most interests them. Since we are an interdisciplinary field of study, we even have flexibility of how we approach the disciplines. I spend more time in sociology than most of the other graduate students (we are mostly economics-focused, with some political science), but I believe that understanding people is important for good policymaking.</p><p>The university is a diverse place, and degrees are not equivalent even if the abbreviation is the same. Ask probing questions about exactly what you want from a program, and whether the design of a program will let you do it. If a program doesn't fit, don't do it. There are many options out there, and fit more than anything else will make you successful. </p><p><strong>Graduate school is a luxury -- savor it while you can</strong></p><p>I don't know if it is just me, but I have a pretty low tolerance for complaining from grad students. I've complained about the library before, but then again, I am also (technically) the student representative to the Kennedy School library. I do try to actually do something about my complaints other than whine.</p><p>Regardless of the context you want to put it, graduate school is truly a luxury. It is a job in which you can read papers and books, write research, think about thoughts independently, and make a contribution to the world intellectually in a way that the vast majority of jobs in the economy simply don't allow. That's something to truly savor when you go through the process.</p><p>But the problem is that some people get really used to the luxury, and define their lives entirely by doing everything they can to stay on campus. Even after their third or fourth postdoc, visiting professorship, etc., they are still trying to make the magic happen because they just don't want to work in the "real world." As one person put it to me, "I can't even think of making money." That's a luxury, and if it happens that the luxury has to stop, don't wail, but enjoy the moment while it lasts.</p>Does a President's Background Even Matter?2015-01-15T00:00:00-08:00Danny Crichtontag:www.dannycrichton.com,2015-01-15:blog/2015/01/15/does-a-presidents-background-even-matter/<p><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/15/opinion/gail-collins-dropouts-and-politics-and-cats.html">Gail Collins poses a question today to her readers</a>: should a president have a college degree? That immediate question is somewhat interesting (I would say yes, if only because entry-level secretaries in offices are required to have a bachelor's degree these days), but there are others with more intellectual excitement.</p><p>Two deeper questions are: to what extent do credentials and qualifications help a president in decision-making and how closely should analysts of politics pay attention to the backgrounds of their subjects?</p><p>I was reading my undergraduate advisor's critique of Graham Allison's <em>Essence of Decision</em> in International Security [1] yesterday, and he repeatedly references the value of historical biography in analyzing foreign policy decisions. In contrast with Allison, who argues that the process of policymaking is the fundamental framework for understanding decisions, this paper argued that we should instead not lose sight of the people within the room and their similar backgrounds.</p><p>Perhaps no quote sums up the piece better than this one from the paper's final paragraph: "Resisting the narrowness of Essence, scholars should think deeply and critically about the underlying values framework of major policy, and perhaps even about the class background or social origins of major policymakers." Such a point is heretical to international relations scholars, who believe that countries are black boxes. It's one of the many reasons I have a sociological bent to my research.</p><p>Academics too often are willing to cede that historical contingency for theories that offer more "science" at the expense of real explanatory power. The background of the president doesn't just matter -- it matters a lot! The fact that Obama was trained as a lawyer shows through in much of his decision-making, and is in contrast to Romney's mode of operation while governor of Massachusetts. It's not obvious which style is better, and we should be careful of making judgments too swiftly. But there is certainly a sense that the style of decision-making, and thus the decision-maker himself, must have an influence on the final outcome.</p><p>And yet, there remains this huge gulf between political journalists and political analysts, the former predisposed to issues of identity and connections to voters, while the latter focus more macroscopically where changes to the economy look beyond the power of any single individual. The focus on process over politics also allows us to presumably remove the politics from our research, but at the expense of explanatory power.</p><p>We don't need more litmus tests in presidential politics, like whether a candidate has gotten a college degree. But we do need to fully understand who someone is so we can grasp what kind of decision-maker they would be. In the case of Scott Walker (who didn't graduate from college), we need to get a much better sense of his thinking beyond simply public union politics. Only then can we understand how he will interact with Washington's myriad political processes and shape government.</p><p>[1] Bernstein, Barton J. “Understanding Decisionmaking, U.S. Foreign Policy, and the Cuban Missile Crisis: a Review Essay.” International Security 25, no. 1 (July 2000): 134–64. doi:10.1162/016228800560417.</p>The New Dynasty Politics of the United States2015-01-14T00:00:00-08:00Danny Crichtontag:www.dannycrichton.com,2015-01-14:blog/2015/01/14/the-new-dynasty-politics-of-the-united-states/<p>With the announcement that <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2015/01/12/paul-ryan-president-2016-congress/21653559/">Paul Ryan will not be entering the 2016 presidential race</a>, we are starting to see the formation of the short list of presidential candidates. And what a list it is! Right now, the Democrats have Hillary Clinton and possibly Elizabeth Warren, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2015/01/13/elizabeth-warren-shuts-door-on-presidential-run-draft-warren-groups-kick-it-back-open/">if left-wing cheerleaders can somehow convince her to leave her Senate cocoon</a>.</p><p>And on the right, the candidates are beginning to narrow to Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and now <a href="https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2015/01/14/private-mitt-romney-starting-outline-rationale-for-third-presidential-campaign/QoYvBak5C4tvaxpezuNbLM/story.html">Mitt Romney</a>, with maybe some others throwing in their hats.</p><p>What is striking is just how familiar these names are. Bush and Clinton certainly need no introductions of their political family connections. Romney, who has now run for president twice -- once as his party's candidate -- is also the son of a former governor. And of course, Rand Paul is the son of erstwhile libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul.</p><p>That leaves Rubio as the sole candidate running outside of a political dynasty.</p><p>Political dynasties aren't uncommon in America. We have already had John and John Quincy Adams, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, as well as George H. W. and George W. Bush. But it is far less common to see the vast majority of candidates in the primaries come from such backgrounds.</p><p>What is happening in American politics today is a pattern that has already befallen professions as diverse as professional soldiers and medical doctors. One element is competition. As these areas of work increasingly see new entrants, advantages that accrue to those with parents in these disciplines tend to become decisive later on. Children with parents who are doctors can be better prepared for life in a hospital simply by listening to the vocabulary and procedures that their parents are talking about.</p><p>Similarly to competitiveness, the increasing search costs for work means that there are greater incentives to work where one knows. It used to be relatively easy for young workers looking to explore different fields to switch industries. But there is a process of hyper-professionalization in many fields, where a careful sequence of unpaid internships, internships, fellowships, and entry-level jobs is the only way in. While this is often argued as a sort of "cultural affinity" for why families stay in similar industries, I believe that these switching costs at least partially explain this.</p><p>There are labor economic reasons why political dynasties are blooming for our nation's highest office, but there are also more particular reasons for its rise as well. To run for president practically requires brand familiarity. The process of choosing the presidency has been warped by social media and 24-hour news away from engaging a candidate's character to simply throwing soundbite grenades. The rigors of that campaign life narrow the field of candidates able to perform it considerably.</p><p>There is also the feeling among some analysts that families who have lived mostly in the public eye are less "risky," since any skeletons buried in the closet have presumably been unearthed. For the sons and daughters of current politicians, who theoretically have had significant supervision to ensure that their actions comport with the media attention they will receive if discovered, they already have the extraordinarily clean record the American public demands of its politicians.</p><p>While those reasons are a partial explanation of this growth, the larger question is more normative: are dynasty politics bad for democracy? There isn't any immediately obvious direction here, particularly given that dynasty politics is quite common in democracies throughout Asia like Korea (where the current president is the daughter of the former dictator of that country), India, and Japan as well as in European countries like France, where Marine Le Pen is now leading in some polls.</p><p>Despite that experience, my sense is that the experience is mostly negative for the US though, for two reasons. First, these dynasties encourage a sort of factionalism in politics that the United States already needs less of. Political feuds end up becoming blood feuds, since the stakes are not just for one's own political careers, but also for one's kin as well. We see these developments in many of the stories about the Clinton family, which isn't just protecting Hillary but also Chelsea.</p><p>But perhaps the real concern is that families have devices to create permanent campaign structures in place and ensure that they can lock up key talent. The Clinton Global Institute performs this function, which has hired many of the top lieutenants of the Clinton years like Ira Magaziner. Since campaigns are so ephemeral, the allure of more permanence of work is highly attractive for both campaign workers and policy experts.</p><p>In short then, political dynasties harm democracy, without a concomitant benefit that I can identify. Maybe the candidates are more fluent and experienced, but it seems hard to believe we can't find new candidates equally qualified.</p><p>We don't want a political system that is already obsessed with slogans to further devolve to simple comparisons of last names. Let's keep politics fresh.</p>Depression, Suicide, and the Future of Mental Health2014-09-18T00:00:00-07:00Danny Crichtontag:www.dannycrichton.com,2014-09-18:blog/2014/09/18/depression-suicide-and-the-future-of-mental-health/<p>I lost a good friend in San Francisco today to depression. He had been battling his illness valiantly for years since I knew him in high school. He was brilliant, hilariously funny, and someone who I always looked forward to having dinner with. He had so much potential to offer the world with his intellect, and we are all worse off without his presence. </p><p>As many of you know, I think mental health remains one of the most under-examined areas for research, creativity, and innovation that we have today. Depression is one of the leading causes of death in this country, and yet, we still treat it much the way we have for decades: with drugs whose effects we barely understand. Irving Kirsch, one of the leading experts in the field at Stanford, said last year, "One hundred years from now, people will look back at the age of giving SSRIs and they will have a reputation that's akin to bloodletting."</p><p>There has to be a better way.</p><p>There have been a handful of startups like Teletherapy and 7 Cups of Tea that have started to address this area. But so much more can be done. I hate it when entrepreneurs ask me how they can make a difference in a reasonable period of time for a lot of people, and then begin to focus on things like aging. This area is so under-explored, we don't even know if there are ways of dramatically improving the lives of millions of people with just some lines of code.</p><p>My friend was an engineer, and I can't think of a better way to remember his legacy than to take his problem-solving ethos and apply it to one of the most important health problems today. Rest in peace.</p>Should Workers Own the Algorithms?2014-08-21T00:00:00-07:00Danny Crichtontag:www.dannycrichton.com,2014-08-21:blog/2014/08/21/should-workers-own-the-algorithms/<p>GigaOm's David Meyer <a href="http://gigaom.com/2014/08/18/in-the-on-demand-economy-flexibility-isnt-control-and-algorithms-wont-protect-workers-rights/">wrote a very nice analysis</a> on Monday in response to my article on whether <a href="http://techcrunch.com/2014/08/17/algorithm-overlords/">algorithms are replacing unions as the future of workers' rights</a>. </p><p>Meyer makes the fair point that owners have rarely done what is in the best interests of their workers in the past, and so the concept of "flexibility" that I trumpet isn't <em>really</em> about control over one's working life. At the end of the day, the owners of technology platforms like Uber still wield disproportionate power over workers and their livelihoods.</p><p>This got me thinking on a hypothetical question: why can't workers, through their representatives, write the algorithms behind work allocation?</p><p>This isn't a crazy proposition. Workforce algorithms are simply methods to solve an optimization problem given a set of objectives. When owners control these algorithms, efficiency tends to be the most important goal, but we can imagine other objectives like most stability or most flexibility to be acceptable.</p><p>For example, Uber's data shows that it needs a certain number of drivers in a certain part of the city at certain times. If workers controlled the algorithm, it would meet those requirements, while also prioritizing certain policy goals. So, we could prioritize having as many different drivers on the road as possible, having the most senior drivers on the road get the most hours, prioritize the highest-ranked drivers, etc. </p><p>Since Uber is fundamentally a network, the idea is that it shouldn't care where the drivers come from as long as they show up when and where they are supposed to.</p><p>As another example, Starbucks <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/08/13/us/100000003053788.mobile.html">got into hot water last week over its scheduling practices</a> following a bruising article in the New York Times. The company was criticized for the instability of its work shifts, which damaged families and made it hard to schedule child care consistently.</p><p>If workers controlled the algorithm, then there could be ways to ameliorate these issues. The workers could vote for policies that allowed them more flexible schedules, ensured that they don't have to close and open the same store (called clopening), and focused on schedule stability so that child care arrangements were easier to make.</p><p>Again, Starbucks runs as a franchise model, where baristas are theoretically interchangeable between shifts and stores. It shouldn't care <em>who</em> actually does the work, beyond that the number of workers recommended by its data actually show up.</p><p>In terms of engineering, these problems aren't hard to solve. Companies with large workforces already use algorithms to assign workers to tasks, and so having those algorithms written by someone else wouldn't be impossible. The larger issue is with integration, and ensuring that algorithms match business expectations, but even here, the company has the ability to set the context for the algorithm, and so this can be solved as well.</p><p>The real challenge will be finding consensus on the actual policy choices that the algorithm requires. Should an algorithm prioritize scheduling stability for mothers with newly-born kids? How about for workers with the most seniority? These policy choices are hard to reconcile, and workers who today complain about company policies may find it nearly impossible to build the system that meets all of their objectives. Indeed, there may even be some empathy built here at just how challenging it can be to efficiently allocate thousands of people.</p><p>That efficiency issue leads to one final point though. All of these allocation problems and their effects on workers are a direct result of a business culture of cutting every last percentage point of expenses. Even 2-3% more slack in the system would lead to significantly better outcomes for workers than today's systems. Cutthroat competition is the ailment here, and the algorithms are only as good as the context in which they are run.</p>In cutting foreign exchanges, Obama Administration demonstrates short-term thinking2014-07-14T00:00:00-07:00Danny Crichtontag:www.dannycrichton.com,2014-07-14:blog/2014/07/14/in-cutting-foreign-exchanges-obama-administration-demonstrates-short-term-thinking/<p>One of the great advantages of being a superpower like America is that everyone has to care about you. I see this all the time in a relatively small country like Korea, where news from a Congressional sub-committee's decision about the peninsula may never get a line of print in a newspaper in the US, but is front-page news here locally.</p><p>As the former Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau, once said, "Living next to [the US] is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt."</p><p>With the rise of China globally, and countries like Turkey, Indonesia, India, Brazil and others more regionally, America's absolute dominance is waning. Students, business leaders, politicians, and academics now have a choice on where to spend their energies. If you are an African college student, do you learn English and head toward the West, or do you learn Chinese and head toward the East? That decision is still likely weighted toward English — for now — but the answer is not nearly as obvious as it once was.</p><p>America has to adapt to a world where people have a choice on where to study and do business. It needs to engage the world by sending more of our citizens abroad to ensure that we have dense personal networks worldwide, while also encouraging as many people as possible to come to the United States and bank their futures in our country.</p><p>That obviously means improving our immigration system, but we also need to work on policies designed to get Americans traveling outside the country.</p><p>Which leads me to the news this last week that the Obama Administration is changing how we think about student exchanges through the State Department. <a href="http://chronicle.com/article/State-Department-Moves-to/147687/">The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote that</a> (paywall) the Obama Administration hopes to refocus the State Department's current education and cultural programs to better meet our policy objectives.</p><p>The key quote comes from Evan Ryan, who is the head of such programs as the Assistant Secretary of State for Education and Cultural Affairs. "The real impetus for these programs is to make sure that exchanges are really tied to foreign policy and foreign-policy goals, making sure that they can be responsive to where we are in terms of what we’re trying to accomplish," she said to the Chronicle.</p><p>As a brief aside, you might wonder who Ryan is. As head of educational programs, you would expect her background to focus on teaching or research, which are the mainstays of her office. <a href="http://eca.state.gov/about-bureau/about-assistant-secretary">Reading over her biography</a>, you can see that her work history includes scheduling for first lady Hillary Clinton, scheduling for senator Hillary Clinton's campaign, communications for John Kerry for President, and (domestic) intergovernmental relations for President Obama.</p><p>But I digress. The problem with Ryan's analysis is that our foreign-policy goals are always shifting, even though the fundamental purpose of such exchange programs is everlasting. The goal of the today's State Department is to transform these long-term, meaningful programs into ones designed for short-term "success."</p><p>What does this look like in practice? The Chronicle continues about a new program for African civic leaders:</p><blockquote><p>In many ways, the program is the opposite of Fulbright, or at least of the well-known Fulbright scholar program, in which American and foreign participants spend up to a year abroad teaching or conducting research.</p><p>For the leadership program, the overseas stay is short (six weeks for most participants), is focused on developing a single region of the world, and <strong>is not technically an exchange because it only brings Africans to the United States and no Americans go abroad as part of it</strong>.</p></blockquote><p>This is a policy designed for a world in which the United States is the monopoly superpower. That world doesn't exist anymore.</p><p>I am a former Fulbright scholar in South Korea, where I worked with a dozen grad students at KAIST and two dozen or so people in the startup industry in Seoul and in Daejeon. Today, I am a writer based in Seoul, covering startups. Fulbright was the impetus for me to engage with the rest of the world, and today, I have presented at several conferences and talks in Asia, spreading the message of entrepreneurship and Silicon Valley. This is fundamentally good for the United States and its public diplomacy efforts.</p><p>We have to create a space for programs that don't have immediate short-term objectives, but have tremendous value in the long-term. We see this same situation with research funding in the sciences, where there is now greater emphasis to fund research that will create jobs rather than just produce knowledge. That's in spite of the incredible historical evidence that producing knowledge is incredibly beneficial for the economy.</p><p>We need to adapt to multipolar world that is coming, rather than design our policies for a world that no longer exists. Double-digit cuts to Fulbright and other useful programs just shows how little we understand the world that's coming.</p>The Challenge of Korea's Narrow Political Culture2014-06-26T00:00:00-07:00Danny Crichtontag:www.dannycrichton.com,2014-06-26:blog/2014/06/26/the-challenge-of-koreas-narrow-political-culture/<p>This week, South Korean President Park Geun-hye's second candidate for prime minister, Moon Chang-keuk, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/s-koreas-prime-minister-nominee-withdraws/2014/06/23/2e8116bc-fb42-11e3-9f27-09f20b8bfd1a_story.html">pulled his name from consideration</a>, following outrage over comments he made about imperial Japan's occupation of Korea. This follows <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/28/us-southkorea-politics-idUSKBN0E80T520140528">the collapse of the candidacy of Ahn Dai-hee</a>, a former judge who made an income of $1.6 million after his return to the private sector late last month.</p><p>For the president, the loss of two candidates for prime minister has hit hard. Polls show that <a href="http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/national/2014/06/20/72/0301000000AEN20140620004400315F.html">approval ratings for the president have declined sharply</a> over the past few weeks, and are at their lowest point since Park assumed office. The loss of political capital so early in the administration portends significant difficulties in the coming years for Korea's government.</p><p>But beyond the polls, the withdrawals of both candidates illustrates a growing problem in Korea: the exacting expectations of political candidates for office. This is a real challenge, both for Korea as well as for many established democracies like the United States. Due to the rallying effect of the Internet as well as an aggressively adversarial political culture, candidates are now put under an unbelievable amount of scrutiny.</p><p>That scrutiny would seem useful; after all, politicians holding ministry portfolios or senior government positions are entrusted with powers that few others in society wield. But as the bar has moved higher for candidates, the number of candidates that might have a shot of making it through the political system has narrowed.</p><p>The United States has not been immune to these kinds of political purity tests. We can see this effect most keenly on the Supreme Court, where jurists who hope to one day be nominated by a president avoid stating a controversial opinion on, well, anything. Take Elena Kagan for instance. Despite being the dean of Harvard Law School, she had written a <a href="http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/kagan0509.pdf">grand total of 19 publications in her entire career</a> according to her confirmation papers, with many of these outside of legal argument.</p><p>However, Kagan's generation of jurists was prepared for this environment. Kagan received her JD in 1986, just one year before the infamous confirmation hearings that derailed the appointment of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. It is not hard to see how she and others of her generation adapted to this heightened scrutiny by reducing their publications and narrowing their fields of inquiry.</p><p>This problem is particularly acute in Korea, because its societal norms around candidates have changed so quickly that there hasn't even been a generational shift in the politicians to adapt to these new standards. The kinds of activities and behavior that were acceptable in the political class just a decade ago are now completely forbidden. That means that almost any candidate who could potentially be a candidate likely has some baggage associated with them, whether it is cozy business-government relations, past comments, making money after government service, illegal school registration, tax avoidance, and the list goes on.</p><p>My concern runs deeper though, as the rise of social networks and the Internet's indelible memory could make this situation even worse in the future. What happens to the next generation of politicians who have college party pictures used against them, or their words in a high school newspaper?</p><p>Are we converging on a system that puts only the most boring, unsuccessful, uninteresting, and ultimately useless people in power? What does it say when the United States can't put one of its top humanitarians, Paul Farmer, in charge of its primary international development agency because he can't get through the vetting process. <a href="http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/10/update-on-paul-farmer-and-usaid/">As Nicolas Kristof wrote at the time</a>: "if a saint like Farmer can’t get through, who can?"</p><p>I joked on Twitter that Korea's third prime minister candidate is likely to be a charm. But by charm, I meant exactly the opposite. I half expect a person in a coma, as that is likely to be the only candidate that has a chance of making it through the gauntlet.</p><p>In order for democratic societies to function, we as citizens, whether in the United States, Korea, or anywhere else, need to create more space for people to engage in politics, even if they don't necessarily have a sterling record. While in office, integrity is keen, and failure to maintain a high standard should be met with swift punishment. But let's tone down the animosity to every chink in the armor of a candidate's past, and instead engage them more substantively on the issues they hope to address. We need to build a better politics.</p>