Posts tagged ‘Via Tyler Cowen’

Weird Interview Questions

Via Tyler Cowen, here are some odd questions with snarky answers.

There are some themes here.  Several are sort algorithms (the horses and the balls) and a number are probability and distribution questions (e.g. the stairs and the stools). Several are clearly sales and customer service situations (e.g. the invisible pen).

And several are estimation problems (e.g. how many airplanes are in the air right now).  The latter type question was very popular when I was at McKinsey & Co.  Many interviews actually gave the victim interviewee some kind of business case.  The point was to see how well the person broke down the problem, considered facts they would need to obtain, etc.

A subset of these was the ever-popular market estimation game, such as "how many home windows are bought each year in Mexico?"  As an interviewer, one wants to see the person think "OK, there is new construction and replacement.  For the new construction market, we need the size of the home construction market, number of windows per home...."  That sort of thing.

We would also generally ask them to guess at numbers for all these and actually come up with a number.  This is not some test of trivia -- being able to look at numbers and reality check them is an important skill, so having a reasonable intuition about the proper scale of business and economic statistics is useful.  In fact, if there was one skill as a consulting manager I was constantly trying to hammer into younger consultants it was to look at the numbers coming out of their spreadsheets and ask them if they really make sense.

Arrogant Ignorance

Years ago I coined a term for a number of people I deal with in business -- "arrogant ignorance."  I don't mind running into folks who are young and inexperienced and admit such -- in fact, I like educating and training people and sharing what limited knowledge I have accumulated.  But what really sets me off are folks who have no idea about the subject on which they are making decisions but act as if their judgment is beyond question.  This tendency seems to be reinforced by organizations that have few real performance metrics and where, as such, looking like one knows what he or she is doing is more important than actually doing anything.

More recently, I found that this effect already has a name - Dunning-Kruger, though I think my term is much more evocative.  Anyway, this is an interesting article on Dunning-Kruger and its legitimacy in describing actual human behavior.

Via Tyler Cowen

Another Great Argument for Open Immigration

Via Tyler Cowen:

Female migrants should on average be prettier, ceteris paribus, than those who stay in the old country.

Not Surprising in the Least

Via Tyler Cowen:

The Asian
Development Bank presented official survey results indicating China's
economy is smaller and poorer than established estimates say. The
announcement cited the first authoritative measure of China's size
using purchasing power parity methods. The results tell us that when
the World Bank announces its expected PPP data revisions later this
year, China's economy will turn out to be 40 per cent smaller than
previously stated......The number of people in China living below the
World Bank's dollar-a-day poverty line is 300m - three times larger
than currently estimated.

Well, this is a bit sad, as I would hope everyone likes seeing people emerge from poverty**.  But it is really not surprising.  Strongly state-run economies are notoriously hard to measure from the outside, and westerners systematically overestimated the size of the economy of the old Soviet Union.

**  I make this statement because I am an optimistic guy full of confidence in the generally good intentions of mankind.  Because if I were not such a person, and actually judged people by their actions, I would come to the conclusion that a lot of people DO NOT want people in countries like China to emerge form poverty.  Trade protectionism, apologias for looting dictators like Castro or Chavez, anti-globalization riots, anti-growth initiatives, and calls for rollbacks in fossil fuel consumption all share in common a shocking disregard for people trying to emerge from poverty -- often from folks on the left who purport to be the great defenders of the poor.  I tried to explain the phenomenon before, at least among self-styled "progressives':

Progressives do not like American factories appearing in third world
countries, paying locals wages progressives feel are too low, and
disrupting agrarian economies with which progressives were more
comfortable.  But these changes are all the sum of actions by
individuals, so it is illustrative to think about what is going on in
these countries at the individual level. 

One morning, a rice farmer in southeast Asia might faces a choice.
He can continue a life of brutal, back-breaking labor from dawn to dusk
for what is essentially subsistence earnings.  He can continue to see a
large number of his children die young from malnutrition and disease.
He can continue a lifestyle so static, so devoid of opportunity for
advancement, that it is nearly identical to the life led by his
ancestors in the same spot a thousand years ago.

Or, he can go to the local Nike factory, work long hours (but
certainly no longer than he worked in the field) for low pay (but
certainly more than he was making subsistence farming) and take a shot
at changing his life.  And you know what, many men (and women) in his
position choose the Nike factory.  And progressives hate this.  They
distrust this choice.  They distrust the change.  And, at its heart,
that is what the opposition to globalization is all about - a deep
seated conservatism that distrusts the decision-making of individuals
and fears change, change that ironically might finally pull people out
of untold generations of utter poverty.