Esther Duflo: Nobel-grade evolution in thinking about women as victims

An MIT economist, Esther Duflo, was a co-winner of this year’s Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. How has her scientific thinking evolved?

From a 2016 New York Times article:

Women aren’t particularly nice to women,” notes Esther Duflo, an economist at M.I.T. who has studied gender issues. She observes that in Spain, researchers found that having more women randomly assigned to a committee evaluating judiciary candidates actually hurts the prospects of female candidates. A similar study found that on Italian academic evaluation committees, women evaluate female candidates more harshly than men do.

From a 2019 CNN article:

She also said that she hoped the award would inspire other female economists to continue working, “and men to give them the respect they deserve, like every single human being.”

After three years, white women with PhDs in North America continue to be victims, but the gender identities of the victimizers have evolved!

[Duflo is also an expert on taxation. From “Should We Soak the Rich? You Bet!” (NYT, October 12, 2019):

Two M.I.T. economists, Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo, demolish the traditional arguments against higher taxes on the wealthy in an incisive book coming out next month, “Good Economics for Hard Times.” While major league sports teams have salary caps that limit athletes’ pay, Banerjee and Duflo note that no one argues “that players would play harder if only they were paid a little (or a lot) more. Everybody agrees that the drive to be best is sufficient.”

“High marginal income tax rates, applied only to very high incomes, are a perfectly sensible way to limit the explosion of top wealth inequality,” Banerjee and Duflo write.

Does the example of sports stars make sense when considering, e.g., a 95 percent tax rate on the highest incomes? The Nobel winner fails to consider the possibility that the average American desk job is less fun than playing sports. People, including kids, will play sports for fun; very few people will do a desk job without the expectation of a paycheck.

In addition to the fun of the game, sports stars receive some non-monetary compensation. “The Drugs, Sex, and Swagger of the 1980s Lakers” (GQ):

In his autobiography, A View From Above, Wilt Chamberlain said he slept with 20,000 women. From the sounds of it in your book Showtime, it appears the 1980’s Lakers weren’t far off from that tally.

The Lakers were superstars in a hot city at a time when HIV awareness wasn’t there yet, and groupies were at their peak of popularity. There were women in hotel lobbies, women outside the arena, women in the arena. Everywhere. And they wanted to have sex. So Lakers players did—often. But. . . it wasn’t all that unusual in the world of pro sports. The Knicks, I’m guessing, had lots of sex. And the Cavs. And even the Clippers—well, maybe not the Clippers. But most teams.

What about generic business executives and Wall Street fund managers? If their spending power, after tax, isn’t very different from what a Medicaid dentist earns in Massachusetts, why would women want to party with them? Maybe Wilt Chamberlain would have continued playing basketball, winning games while the crowd cheers and then meeting the female groupies in the hotel. But why would a mutual or hedge fund manager want to keep sitting at a desk and staring at a Bloomberg terminal to take home 5 percent of his or her pre-tax pay? Why not quit and move to a beach resort to live off the savings?]

Related:

  • https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2015/01/12/gender-equity-should-be-measured-by-consumption-not-income/
  • from a recent PR pitch: “Gender disparity in tech is a noted issue within the industry, and while the cannabis industry promised women an equal playing field, female leadership percentages have gone down in the past year. Would you be interested in speaking to a female coder and engineer who helped lead the development of a newly patented cannabis soil-to-shelf technology? Trace, a soil-to-shelf company utilizing block-chain technology have created a system tailor-made for the cannabis industry by experts in cannabis crop optimization and the cannabis supply chain. Current systems leave much to be desired.” (the company’s web site opens with “Speak Truth to Flower”)
  • CNN: “[Duflo] also said that she hoped the award would inspire other female economists to continue working”; yet Econ 101 says that a woman with a Ph.D. should continue working unless she can find some way of getting cash that does not require work

6 thoughts on “Esther Duflo: Nobel-grade evolution in thinking about women as victims

  1. Economics is mostly political doggerel with a veneer of intellectual sophistication. You get the feeling that its practitioners have a certain political point of view and then produce research that supports that point of view — rather than first doing experiments and then reaching a conclusion based on those experiments. It is not a science because its predictive ability is either limited or nonexistent. So here we have two economists who seem to say that financial incentives don’t matter to some people — the “very wealthy.” Did they reach that conclusion by conducting experiments, well we started with the assumption that people, even the “very wealthy,” respond to financial incentives but the data show we were unfortunately wrong? Here are the data. Tell us where we erred. I don’t think so.

  2. Average desk job employees 20 years ago were making around $120,000 & the top was $160,000. Today, the average is around $220,000 but tax brackets have remaned unchanged thanks to inflation rules. Such is the myth of taxation for only the rich.

  3. > From a 2016 New York Times article:

    > “Women aren’t particularly nice to women,” notes Esther Duflo, an economist at M.I.T. who has studied gender issues. She observes that in Spain, researchers found that having more women randomly assigned to a committee evaluating judiciary candidates actually hurts the prospects of female candidates. A similar study found that on Italian academic evaluation committees, women evaluate female candidates more harshly than men do.

    > From a 2019 CNN article:

    > She also said that she hoped the award would inspire other female economists to continue working, “and men to give them the respect they deserve, like every single human being.”

    Both statements could be true, women are harsher to other women, perhaps due to petty jealousy (sperm competition), or perhaps due to not accepting what they see as bullshit that men would accept (pussy competition), so that men giving women the respect they deserve could mean men in judiciary committees being harsher (and more honest) to the women…

    I mean, could be, ….

  4. “no one argues that players would play harder”

    There probably are studies about player performance in the last year of a contract, before becoming a free agent. My guess is that players do play harder.

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