Friday, May 30, 2014

Julia Jordan and Steve Levitt

I've referenced this keynote address by Julia Jordan to the 2011 Dramatists Guild conference many times, most recently Thursday night vs. the usual "we live in a meritocracy" crew:

"...Women dominate theater in high school and college. About the same numbers pursue graduate playwriting degrees - 50-50. Agents rep under 40% female clients... theaters report 30% of scripts submitted by females. And then theaters in turn produce just under 20%. That's what happens to female writers - attrition. 
Intelligent educated aware people are still talking about "merit." That artistic directors need to choose work based on their assessment of merit alone. Does that mean that if an artistic director is convinced that work by white artists is inherently superior to work by artists of color that he or she has the right to run a non-profit, tax-free, grant-receiving theater for white artists only? Can we not see through history how incredibly crappy human beings are at determining merit? 
(laughter, applause) 
I looked at the Broadway season a hundred years ago, I didn't recognize one title and I recognized only one name. And I'm a theater nut. The wrong movie wins the best Oscar all the time - we know this. Arguing about merit is silly..."
I was in the audience for this speech - it isn't clear from the video but Jordan got a standing ovation at the end.

Ironically, she mentioned getting help from Steven Levitt whom I think is an asshole - and Krugman recently noted the sheer arrogance of Levitt and Freakonomics:
Noah Smith isn’t very happy with Steve Levitt, who thinks he was being smart by telling David Cameron that he should scrap the NHS and let the magic of the marketplace deal with health care. Strangely, Cameron wasn’t impressed. 
I think there are actually several things going on here. One is a Levitt-specific, or maybe Freakonomics-specific, effect: the belief that a smart guy can waltz into any subject and that his shoot-from-the-hip assertions are as good as the experts’. Remember, Levitt did this on climate in his last book, delivering such brilliant judgements as the assertion that because solar panels are black (which they actually aren’t), they’ll absorb heat and make global warming worse. So it’s true to form that he would consider it unnecessary to pay attention to the work of lots of health economists, or for that matter the insights of Ken Arrow, and assert that hey, I don’t see any reason not to trust markets here.
What this teaches us is: it's a small world, especially for the upper classes, and two, nobody's perfect.