I’ve used much the same argument when discussing equal gender pay nonsense. So here’s Karl Smith at Modeled Behavior, discussing life choices:
… The life choice that Mark’s outlines and that is advocated as prudent and reasonable by society is in fact incredibly risky.
… Imagine the choice of a poor teenage girl deciding whether or not to have unprotected sex and possibly become pregnant, or to study hard, make good grades and stay in school.
Forget the unprotected sex itself, which we almost all find enticing.
The key is the pregnancy. For a 16 year-old girl regular unprotected sex will result in a full term pregnancy in the modern world with roughly probability one. There is little chance she will die in child birth. Late term miscarriages at her age are rare.
Now, just like any other parent the birth of that child will be the most important event in her life. And, the love of that child will be the most valuable thing she experiences. Some people say that looking back their career was more important than their children, but those people are few and far between.
So, if the girl has unprotected sex she gets right here, right now, the most important and valuable thing in life will happen immediately with PROBABILTY ONE.
Its difficult to get better than that. Waiting at all creates a risk that something will happen to prevent this. Even, if you can be sure it won’t – and many couples find out unfortunately that you can’t be so sure – you still have to discount the time. You have wait for the most valuable thing in your life.
Mark’s would have her set all that aside. Put away time that she will never get back – you must remember that no matter what you will never get these days back – for the chance that supposedly she will go on to college and get some job and meet some guy and then later have a different child under what might be better circumstances.
This is a risk. Taking Marks advice means that you lose a sure shot at the greatest thing in life. It means that you potentially waste time and time is the currency of life. He wants to convince you that the gamble might pay off.
Yet, how is a Bayesian supposed to tackle this problem?
I look around in my neighborhood and by definition none of the folks here have done what Marks suggests. These people are like me. I have no reason to believe that I am different.
What kind of sense would it make for me to take this gamble when no else does? No, it makes more sense to play it safe and take the sure thing.
Now, of course teachers, parents and helpful people like Marks will tell me to do otherwise. Should I believe them?
Not on your life.
By their own admission they want to see me “succeed.” That is, they benefit from my gamble. Yet, they incur none of the risks. They don’t lose time with their child. They don’t risk their fertility. They don’t experience the disutility of social climbing.
Heads they win. Tails I lose.
Listening to them would be nothing short of foolish.
And, so of course the teenage girl does not listen. Not because she is irrational, but because she is rational.
Indeed, strategies to get her to change her mind hinge on coercion or leveraging irrationality. Parents may threaten as poor parents do not have the resources to bribe.
Some teachers will try to convince students that they can do anything if they try. Clearly they can not. Others will significantly downplay the disutility of social climbing. They will cast crossing into the cultural unknown as uplifting, not depressing and possibly deeply lonely. These kind of stories border on outright deception.
Everyone will try to get her to “believe in herself.” This is an attempt to induce Caplan-esque rational irrationality. That is, to attach an emotional preference to a belief about the natural world. This is epistemologically equivalent to the nationalistic fervor that accompanies “America First.”
And, if that doesn’t work some teachers will resort to honest guilt: “We took a chance on you, now you take a chance on yourself.”
However, all of these strategies come down not to encouraging prudence and rationality, because the prudent and rational thing to do is to get pregnant. They instead hinge on emotional appeals to irrationality, noble lies and social, and sometimes physical coercion.
If you were a poor black kid, that’s what you would face.
I see much the same thing with (liberal-culturally poor) Mormon kids. Non-Mormons in Utah frequently complain about these kids getting married young, having more kids, and abandoning their hopes and dreams. Nonsense. What hope and dream is there that’s bigger than having your own kid?
Anyway, back to what I say about equal pay. This is also nonsense. Roughly half of our society has a window of about a third of their life to create something of near-infinite value to them. Yet creating that infinite value imposes externalities on surrounding stakeholders: employers, coworkers, spouses and the extended family, neighbors, schools, and other institutions.
What woman wouldn’t want to take off from all of those to increase her (non-monetary) wealth by a near-infinite amount? For a woman in the right position, this is a no-brainer; and frankly, as Karl points out, it’s a no-brainer for a woman in just about any position in modern society.
So, what exactly is the beef if stakeholders want some of the costs they bare internalized by the person creating the near-infinite wealth?