Is there such a thing as an overachiever?

This post is from the 2012 drafts.  I think I was annoyed with people calling my kid an over-achiever, and annoyed with being called an over-achiever as a child.  I think I get less of that now (I’m achieving less?)… but I’ve tried to finish off this post anyway so we have something to post for Monday!

There’s achievement.

And there’s underachievement.

Pretty much everyone is an underachiever.  Nobody is going to reach their fullest potential– that requires the optimal amount of effort and the best luck.  That’s just really unlikely to happen.

But you can still achieve a lot as an underachiever.  And quite possibly be happy because achievement isn’t everything!

How do we define achievement anyway…

And here’s a line I have no idea where I was going with this:  “maybe watching videos helps maximize the whole person even if you go over the amount necessary to maximize your work-life…”  Like… what?

Oh I bet I know!  I bet I was using watching videos as an example of goofing off and not trying to optimize achievement.

How do we define achievement anyway?  Maybe goofing off by watching youtube videos helps to provide happiness, even if it doesn’t optimize some measure of work-life balance, which is a stupid concept anyway.

What are your thoughts on the concept of “over-achievement”?  What is achievement anyway?

 

What do our children owe us?

This was an Atlantic article from just before Thanksgiving that apparently I didn’t link to.

My answer:  Nothing.

They didn’t ask to be brought into the world– for most of us, that was our selfish choice.  (Sadly, for a growing number of people in the US, it wasn’t a choice at all, but still, not the choice of the child.)

We have a responsibility to feed, clothe, shelter, educate, love etc.  Again, this is our responsibility and a gift to the children, but responsibilities and gifts do not create an obligation.  Miss Manners is very firm on that last point about gifts.  Gifts are freely given but the recipient is free to do whatever they want with them.

Whether our children want anything to do with us as adults, that’s their choice.  We should do the best we can to help them become functioning adults.  Once they are adults, then they get to decide what to do.

Our kids are really cool and get more cool every day, so we hope we get to see them as adults.  But that’s a choice on their parts and not an obligation.

Do you feel like you owe your parents anything?  If you have children, do you think they owe you anything?

Your children can do chores

This is a post draft from 2012.  All that it had was the heading– your children can do chores.

I’m not sure if this was a result of mommy bloggers complaining about waiting on their kids, or if it was just a reminder to myself that kids are often more competent than one realizes.  They start out so little and then grow so quickly.  So you forget to let to let them try things like putting on their own shirts.

Now, in 2022, we’re all at the age (#teen/#preteen) where they want to help less and it would be less effort to put their dirty dishes/socks away or to take their laundry out of the dryer rather than nagging them to do it themselves.  But also DC1 is going to college next year and needs to not be a horrible roommate/dorm person.

I worry especially for boy children– some of them seem to be able to skate through life with mommy waiting on them and then replace mommy with girlfriends and eventual wives.  Some of them never learn to take care of their crap and that’s unfair to future women who love them, or at least live with them.  Boys need to get used to doing chores as a service to their future partners.

Did you help out around the house as a kid or was taking care of chores a shock when you were on your own for the first time?

Ask the grumpies: Will your kids be paying a portion of their college costs?

bogart asks:

[Are] people are planning to have their kids pay a portion of college costs and if so, how much.

Background: I have 1 kid and expect to be able to afford to send him anywhere (this is more a function of an employer’s tuition benefit than household wealth, though we are not comfortably off). Both I and my stepkids (whose college I also helped pay for) graduated college with some debt, not an obscene amount (let’s say 1/3 of our first year’s anticipated salary had we gotten an entry-level college-graduate job). I’m inclined to expect roughly the same for my DC, with him either working summers (or whatever) and/or taking on (sensibly financed) student loans. But at this point that’s just a vague notion, not an actual plan. I’m interested to learn what others’ thoughts are on the pros/cons of college kids investing some of their own current/future $$$ on their education, with a note that I definitely know that needing to work lots while in college creates lots of problems for lots of people and don’t want that for DC. And also whether DC does or doesn’t cover what I’m (vaguely) thinking of as a reasonable amount isn’t going to have a big impact on our household’s financial well-being one way or the other. And that I realize I’m lucky and frighteningly privileged to be able to say that.

Related posts: Should parents pay for their childrens’ college?  You can read this deliberately controversial post for why we think the argument that people won’t care about their own education unless they’re paying for it themselves is not a great one.

We are planning on paying full tuition, basic living expenses, and textbooks/etc. expenses for our kids in college.  Probably we’ll also pitch in for one of those overpriced refrigerator/microwave units for the dorm room.  If there are any loans, we will take them on.

I figure they can pay for any extras (meals at restaurants… not sure what else… concert tickets?  plane tickets to visit significant others?  stuffed animals?) out of their earnings, either summer earnings or work during the school year.  My friend whose kid is at Brown is paying for full dining hall PLUS multiple restaurant nights a week, though she just had a conversation with him about that.  (But Mommmmm, the restaurants are so good here!)

Not sure about masters degrees– we will cross that bridge if we come to it.

I graduated with my parents paying the 0% interest subsidized loans they’d taken out on my behalf (we were very low income).  DH graduated with 10K of unsubisidized debt at ~8% interest that we scrimped like crazy to pay off ASAP.  I worked for spending money for extras during the school year and DH worked over the summers.

Paying college tuition is a great way to transfer money to the next generation while avoiding gift/inheritance taxes.  It also doesn’t have the problem of creating more expenses like giving someone a house downpayment would nor does it teach people to live large when they can’t really afford to like giving them cash or a fancy car would.  So if you can afford it, why not?

Leah adds:

I was super grateful that my mom helped me graduate debt free by picking up extra shifts nursing. I think the path to take depends on your family. I totally understood the value of what my mom did for me. I worked hard in college. I had a work study job, got extra scholarships each year, and worked for the school newspaper. There’s more than one way to teach being fiscally prudent. Do what works for your family.

Grumpy Nation:  Those of you who partook of higher education, who paid for it?  If applicable, what do you plan to do/did you do for your kids?

Ask the grumpies: Big controversial research questions in your field

CG asks:

Big research questions in your field that are controversial or have mixed evidence (thinking about the minimum wage issue, and there are plenty of examples in my field). Maybe we’ll get some good research ideas out of it.

Well, yeah, minimum wage is a big one.

What else do economists not agree on yet… hm….

We don’t know a whole lot about a lot of monetary policy.  I was trained in Keynesian stuff, but there’s disagreements there.

Structural models for labor economics and public finance.  There’s some other modeling things that are much smaller and tend not to actually matter (I was trained in Cambridge-school instead of Chicago-school beliefs about these, but I have colleagues who were the reverse).

There’s still a lot of old-school people who believe that women and minorities are doing poorly because they’re playing the game wrong, not because they’re playing a different game than white dudes are.  That’s beginning to change, but it’s an uphill battle.

#2 can’t really add to this because she’s keeping her social science secret and it would be obvious.

Grumpy Nation, what are the big controversies in your respective fields?

On salaries in economics

I recently went to a talk by a woman from the census who connected the survey of earned doctorates to tax records.  She has the entire universe of econ phds for the past 20 years (I’m in there!).  Econ PhDs in industry make more than those in academia make more than those in government.

I have more money than I ever dreamed of (though my dreams were small) and more than we actually need.  When DH is also working we are not even upper middle class anymore (though there are still multiple marginal tax brackets above us).

And yet…

Adjusted by quality/prestige of my PhD, my salary is below the median for academics.

In fact, my salary is below the median for academics in the PhD quality/prestige of the bracket below mine.

Should this matter?  I don’t know.  My friend at a SLAC likes to point out that her salary is way below mine and she’s from the same grad school.  And I think if I were to move to a SLAC I’d be ok with a salary cut (and I’d be happy to move to a SLAC so long as it didn’t come with an increase in my teaching load, which is already high for econ).

DH pointed out that part of the problem is that salary is considered an indicator of quality.  If you have a “low” salary, how good of an economist can you be?  After all, wage equals marginal productivity, doesn’t it?  Especially after the labor market has a chance to sort itself out?  (Answer:  no!  That’s completely ignoring search frictions and compensating differentials).

Should I care about prestige?  Should I equate salary with being valued?  Does it matter when I’m getting paid a ridiculous amount already that others are getting paid even more ridiculous amounts?  Would I be more productive if we had more money?  Should the fact that DH is also making a lot even enter into my equation?

I go back and forth on these questions.  I do like money.  And… half of the people do have to be below median.  It’s just hard when having a below median salary means people think you’re a below-average economist.  You know?  And my salary is publicly available.

Does your field equate salary with productivity?  Does it equate salary with value?  Do you?

Internet Drama is so 2010s

After noting that honest doesn’t necessarily mean raw and negative in a comment section, I got asked by a blogger why I even look at her blog since “I obviously dislike” her.

This was a blogger who I have stopped reading multiple times in the past because of repetitive negative behavior that cycled over and over again which was super frustrating to read about.  But she’s on a blogroll and has a gift with post names so sometimes one has to click out of curiosity because of the name of the post.  (I also have this tempting-title problem with a doesn’t-realize-he’s-sexist political blogger.)

The weird thing about all this is the timing.  She has had mostly healthy posts the last several times I’d clicked!  She seems to have gotten a handle on the money stuff, a situation her readers warned her would happen that did happen finally got resolved, and she’s no longer complaining about her adult family members.  It’s probably been a couple years since I felt dirty for clicking.  And she was lamenting the loss of interesting raw honest posts since her life has been going pretty well.  Which… seems like a weird thing to lament.  I thought I’d made that point more politely than I did just now, but apparently it unintentionally touched a nerve.

I don’t know if this Chicago Tribune story is the one I was thinking of (whatever I was thinking of did talk about the rise and fall of Dooce and similar bloggers, including drunk mommy blogs and why they’re no longer “in”).  But the confessional “raw, honest” mommy-blog is not really a thing anymore.  It’s no longer cool to confess to day-drinking because your kids drive you crazy.  (To be clear, the blog I’m talking about in the first paragraph was never one of those– the drunk mommy blogs were just part of the same movement.)

The thing is, just because something is negative, that doesn’t mean it is honest.  And making something negative happen just to get points for being honest is worse! Long before the rise of the mommy blogs, we saw Sandra Tsing Loh pretty much making her professional persona about being a mess.  And when that happens, you cannot stop being a mess or you become irrelevant.  You, in fact, have to become more of a mess so you can have more “raw, honest, brave” performance art.  This is what the tail wags the dog MEANS.  And that’s why in our about statement, written more than 10 years ago, we have as a rule that this blog cannot become negative for the sake of being negative, despite its title.

These are also issues Hank Green touches on in his science fiction novels about fame and personas.  What is real, that sort of thing.

I’m glad that tongue-in-cheek (but not all *that* tongue-in-cheek) dysfunctional isn’t in right now.  People praised it as being an antidote to perfect facebook posts, but also… it was a pretty destructive movement.  Yes, some people enjoy schadenfreude, yes there will always be a group of people who love to praise “bravery” and “honesty” and absolutely adore when a lifestyle blogger has a “life isn’t 100% perfect” post.  And I’m not saying that everything shared has to be perfect and wonderful… but if life is being pretty good, why lament the lack of drama posts?  Why not just be happy that life is pretty good?  That can be honest too.  Healthy, even.

Have you noticed a decline in … “raw, honest, brave” performance art?  Do you wish there were more of those posts or is reality TV a good substitute?  Do you think that with Trump gone that less frightening drama will return and dramatic “honest” posts are just the internet’s way of healing?  Can you tell this post was written before Delta took over and the Supreme Court decided to let an insane anti-abortion law stand?  

Ask the Grumpies: How much should one give to charity?

Jess asks:

How do you decide how much to give to charity? I’m not religious so I’ve only heard of the 10% tithe recently and it seems like so much! At the same time, I know a “could” afford to donate 10% while still saving 15% as recommended, so is it wrong not to do so? I am very young (25) and the idea of compound interest has been hammered into me, plus I am reasonably confident I will be taking a pay cut in about a year to switch industries (into one that is better for the world) and move cities, so it feels safer to save a lot while I can.
Right now I’m donating about 2% through automatic monthly donations and so far in 2020 have donated about 2% in one-off donations. I expect to donate more this year given the many extenuating circumstances. Any advice is welcome!

There’s no hard and fast rule about how much you should give to charity.  In fact, in an ideal country, you wouldn’t have to give *anything* to charity because the government would be collecting taxes to take care of needs.  But, we don’t live in an ideal country and really, no country has figured everything out.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind though.

1.  Take care of yourself first.  Keep saving 15% for retirement!  Also make sure that your emergency fund is full, that you’ve got plenty of insurance, and that you have a plan to save for big goals like cars or houses (or job changes) etc.

2.  Just like the tax system, it doesn’t make sense for everybody to donate the same percentage to charity.  Richer people should be donating more to charity and lower income people should be donating less.  We explain why marginal tax rates make sense here, complete with a diagram that we stole with attribution from someone else.  But the main idea is that for people who have lower income, 10% is a huge cut in their ability to meet their needs and wants and is a drastic decrease in their utility (aka happiness).  For a billionaire, 10% leaves them with 90% of their billions, which is still more than any reasonable person should want.  They only get a small decrease in their utility.  Because that 100th yacht just isn’t that exciting.  (And honestly, we’d be better off if evil billionaires would stop getting their jollies by buying politicians and screwing with civil society.)

So… there is no right answer.  Only you can decide.  But as you make more, you should up your % donated, not just the dollar amount.  As you make less, you should cut it.

On top of that, some people have charitable giving plans where they figure out how much and where they will be donating in advance.  Other people (like us) tend to be soft touches and tend to donate based on whatever makes the hurting hurt less, and donate at any point in time based on our finances when we’re asked or read a sad news article or etc.  The former is probably a better way for the charities and a better way to live life, but the latter is how a lot of people do it, which is why we get so much junk mail and so many emotional appeals.

We just did our taxes, and gave about 1.5% of our income to actual 501c3 organizations, but we gave a TON more to political organizations which are not tax deductible.  Does that count as charity?  I tend to think so because I have a strong belief that government should be providing public goods and not, you know, separating children from their families and putting them into concentration camps.  $ to Stacey Abrams will have saved a lot more lives than money to pretty much any charity I can think of this past year.  Not to say that donating to 501c3 charities isn’t important, but political action and political donations are not wasted efforts or wasted money if your end goal is to make the world a better place.  They’re just not tax deductible.

Grumpy Nation, how do YOU decide how much to give to charity?  Has this varied over your income/life?

Ask the grumpies: How do you organize your books?

Steph asks:

If you haven’t tackled this somewhere – How do you organize your books? How do you feel about the rainbow bookshelves trend that is still going on? (Or the “spines inward/pages outward” trend – maybe this is a deliberately controversial question ;) )

We have a somewhat strong disagreement on this topic in that #1 has taken all the pretty hard cover books out of the bedroom bookcases and put them into the living room and #2 thinks this is heresy.

#1:

two of the bedroom bookcases, mostly humorous SPEC fic in alphabetical order by author or editor's last name

two of the bedroom bookcases, mostly humorous SPEC fic in alphabetical order by author or editor’s last name

Otherwise:  #1 has all read paperback fiction books put together in alphabetical order in her bedroom bookcases.  To-be-read books are sideways in a pile double-stacked in no particular order across two shelves.  Our joint comic books have their own shelf in our bedroom.  DH doesn’t tend to keep fiction books (he doesn’t reread much), so the ones that we do have are scattered in with my books or DC1’s books, though they used to have their own shelf. Non-fiction books are loosely organized by subject in the living room shelves.  Cookbooks are shelved mostly by size (because of the different sizes of books and shelves… this bothers me a little, but there are only 3 shelves) just outside the kitchen.

I try really hard to keep the kids’ fiction chapter books in alphabetical order by author’s last name in their bookcases, but that doesn’t always happen.  Kids non-fiction chapter books have their own bookshelf in the hallway (they used to be on separate shelves in their room bookcases, but then we got DC2 a full size bookcase and moved hir smaller case to the hallway), which started out organized by subject but is now a total mess.  Spanish books are the bottom shelf of DC2’s bookcase.  They also keep all their comic books there which started out organized alphabetically by last author, but are not even shelved nicely anymore.  I just give up.   Books that DC2 has really outgrown are currently taking the bottom shelves of 3 bookcases in the living room not really organized at all.  I should note that I have mild undiagnosed OCD and having organized bookcases give me pleasure while disorganized bookcases give me a little buzz of unhappiness.  But I just cannot keep up with the kids being agents of destruction so I have found it healthier for me to just not try to keep up and mentally separate their messed up sections from all books.  I tell myself I’m never trying to find their specific non-fiction or comic or picture books so the lack of organization shouldn’t be a problem for me.

Most of my new books are kindle (because they’re cheaper and more portable… in normal times much of my reading gets done on airplanes) and they’re organized by read/unread and then date last read.  There’s also a separate thing for children’s books that have been read.

#2:

Three of #2's bookcases, creatively organized

Three of #2’s bookcases, creatively organized

I have fiction and non-fiction in my bedroom, with various piles of books stacked haphazardly in the living room, kitchen, etc. (And cookbooks in our kitchen.) I have a couple “emergency” books in a cabinet in the bathroom. They just ended up there.

I do not put my books in alphabetical order.  They are in an order.  For example, there is one case that is all my best-loved and most-personal books.  Authors who coauthor books have the coauthored book in between the other two authors.  I mix fiction and non-fiction together.

I hate electronic books and have been gradually replacing my cheap kindle books with paperbacks as they come available/get affordable/are gifted from my amazon list.

We’re mostly against sorting books by color (#1 moreso than #2).  We’re definitely against shelving them spine inward (though #1’s DC2 seems to favor this.  It drives #1 CRAZY.)  #2 wants to SEE people’s books out of curiosity.  #1 wants to be able to FIND books.  Why organize them at all if you’re not going to be able to use the index?

Related:

Billy the bookcase

Where the books are

Our fantasy library

Couchblogging and rearranging the library

Karen, co-opted

One of my friends brought to my attention a conversation around the term, “Karen,” in econ twitter.

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, Karen is the slang term for a privileged entitled white woman who uses her privilege and authority to harm a minority person.  Karens are often seen in videos calling the police on an innocent black person or family, and have the catch phrase, “let me talk to the manager.”

But one important aspect of Karening in its original slang definition is that they are using their privilege for evil.  They’re punching down.  They’re using unjustified anger at minorities simply being in their space to harass and hurt people.

Unfortunately, the term Karen has been co-opted by white men and the occasional metaphorical Karen to mean any strong white woman who is not afraid to speak her mind or, mind-bogglingly, any white woman who follows rules.  So a friend was called a Karen for very briefly blocking traffic in an alley to close a gate that needed to be closed.  White women politely asking other white people to put on their masks have been called Karens.  White women protesting racist and misogynistic men on twitter have been termed Karens by those same white men.

The term is no longer just shorthand for “privileged entitled jerk who uses authority to punch down” when white men and women use it.  It has become a tool of oppression used by more privileged people to keep women down.  Not because of people correctly using it in its originally intended purpose, but by others perverting the meaning to reinforce patriarchal structures of oppression.  Instead of being a term used by the rebellion to free, it’s being used by the evil empire to oppress.

So after some discussion in which my friend said she did not like the term Karen and I noted that I liked its original use (though we both feel sorry for non-Karens named Karen), we came to an agreement.

First, we decided that white men are not allowed to use the term Karen.  When white men use it, no matter how they use it, it is punching down.  Next we discussed white women’s use and decided that it’s either punching down or sideways and there’s not much lost by white women no longer using the term.  They can say entitled privileged jerk, or what have you.  So we agreed that if white people stop using the term “Karen” then its powerful short-hand use can be preserved by the people who truly understand the definition and who need it most.  (I reserve the right to use the term “Karen” when the woman in question is actually named Karen because puns.)

Language evolves, and if enough people use a sexist version of the term Karen, the term itself will do harm.  (And c’mon, white men are even worse– can’t we stop protecting them from their terrible actions too?)

Who do you think should use the word Karen?  What should white people say instead?