Natural Hypocrisy

This video offers a window on natural hypocrisy:

Most people believe that redistributing money within a nation is good, but that redistributing GPA within a school is bad, and if asked why these should be treated differently, have little to say. My point isn’t to say one can’t come up with reasons to treat these differently.  One could, for example, argue that we prefer differing school signals to help employers sort people into jobs, to achieve higher productivity so that the pie is bigger when we redistribute money. My point is that most people can’t think of such reasons, making it pretty unlikely that such reasons are the cause of their opinions.

Some observations from this and my many class discussions:

  • Ask random colleges student random policy questions and they will feel compelled to come up with opinions.
  • Ask them for reasons for those opinions and they’ll feel compelled to come up with such reasons.
  • Such opinions strongly tend to support the status quo – mostly whatever is, is assumed good.
  • There is only a weak added tendency for students to offer similar opinions and reasons on similar policy questions. Opinions and reasons are not being generated by processes that tend to produce much added similarity.
  • Students are mostly satisfied to grasp at any plausibly policy-relevant difference to justify treating things differently, even when such differences don’t obviously “make a difference” to the issue at hand.

We humans are much better at coming up with reasons for opinions than at choosing coherent sets of opinions – we clearly have a powerful inbuilt capacity for hypocrisy.

Added 28Apr: Those who think it unfair to evaluate what students said on the spot, how much better do you think the reasons would have become if the students were given an hour to think about it by themselves?  A week?

Added 6May: Megan McArdle weighs in.

GD Star Rating
Tagged as: ,
Trackback URL:
  • Michael Foody

    I see your point but I think it is telling that the people asking the questions are similarly thoughtless about the question. They are simply asserting that it is the same thing. The people that object are simply asserting that it is different.

    Redistributing GPA points is more like redistributing points in a basketball game. It doesn’t hurt specific people (the highest scoring student would still be the highest scoring student) it simply makes GPA less meaningful at that institution.

    I am not particularly troubled that people who are presented with an idea that is novel and silly are unable to tear apart the bad idea in an edited video. It’s less hypocrisy and more that the ability to logically parse novel arguments is rarer than we suppose.

    • KPres

      How can you claim that making GPA less meaningful doesn’t harm those with high GPA’s?

      Your point that GPA is only meaningful relative to other GPAs (what’s important is where you rank, not the actual score), and that because of this, it’s unproductive to reduce the inequality, is insignificant because in that case inequality cannot be used as a justification to redistribute wealth either, since wealth inequality is also merely a relative measurement.

      It would be different if you were arguing that wealth should be redistributed to alleviate some pain experience by the lower classes. But that’s a different argument altogether, because wealth redistribution is not central to achieving that end, productive efficiency and economic growth are.

    • Haha. I love how, not two paragraphs in your comment, you felt immediately compelled to find a “reason” (I call it PRETEXT) in support of the hypocrisy in the video, AND you claim that it’s not about hypocrisy at all. It’s all so meta. You fell SQUARELY into Robin’s prediction.

      • David

        His reason is correct and is essentially the same as the reason Robin gives; redistributing GPA is obviously does not benefit people overall because GPAs are only used to rank people. Whether or not redistributing wealth benefits society as a whole depends on economic arguments and studies because money serves functions other than just ranking people. I find it very likely that many students were not thinking this and were biased, but the students chosen were the ones that were farthest from understanding this because that makes that video seem more convincing, so it is not surprising that none of them could give even part of a valid argument.

  • So you create an argument by analogy (irrespective of how good that is) and present it to people who haven’t been exposed to it before – and see how well they do producing a well thought out counter example to the analogy.

    As far as I see it many of the people gave quite reasonable responses considered in the context that they don’t have the space to say – write a thesis responding to all the various objections the interviewer posed to their reasons.

    Most of the responses were reasonable first stabs (e.g. grades are an indication of performance) – and as responses they serve them well enough in most of the contexts of discussion they encounter. So it’s no wonder that their views most often defer to the default.

    So now they are faced suddenly with a context that requires a much higher level of sophistication. Well – that doesn’t prove anything about the coherency of their beliefs. Give me time I’m pretty sure I could intellectualise an argument about why grades indicate performance and why income doesn’t – and even if my argument was ultimately incoherent – I bet I could frame one that would take you a long time to show it to be incoherent.

    Besides that – being conservative in your beliefs actually is a pretty good strategy and it’s good that most people are. Because most radical ideas fail. So I for one am glad people are opinionated positively toward the status quo. You only want a small percentage of your population trying out whacky stuff. That’s probably why evolution made some of us ADHD, schizophrenic and the like. I see nothing hypocritical in that – just common sense.

  • Aron

    Distribute GPA. That’s fine. Do it primarily for the same reasons. There should be social security for graduate students.

    • Brian

      I believe they call social security for graduate students a “research assistantship”.

  • Justus

    Terrible analogy. Schools offer all levels of classes, specifically so that students in each class start on a more or less equal educational state of unlearned-ness. From that point, they have guaranteed access a well-organized and consistent environment in which to learn from a expert authority figure and a group of mostly ambitious and competent peers. Students then have all the required tools available to them, and are full empowered to “earn” the GPA they deserve. Compare students in a class with individuals in a society, and the factors that determine financial performance – Does society naturally ensure that everyone starts on a more or less equal financial playing field? Does society naturally ensure that everyone receives the same quality of environment in which to develop and advance? Does everyone in a society benefit from a strong authority structure that has its best interest at heart, and a mostly ambitious and competent peer group? Of course not. An intellectual honest position would recognize that it is much easier for some individuals to “earn” their financial success than others.

    John Locke recognized that those that benefited from privilege and abundance had a responsibility toward those without such privilege, and saw fit for government to assist with this purpose.

    • KPres

      People do not start on a level playing field. IQ plays a decidedly large role in determining academic achievement, and an intellectually honest position would recognize that it is much easier for some individuals to “earn” their academic success than others.

      • Justus

        Admission to a university goes a long way to weeding out those with an IQ not high enough to be able to “earn” their grade.

    • Prakash

      Friendly AI for the win!

  • osc

    Michael: Not sure that your analogy fits so well. Not all institutions that recruit out of school pay attention to which schools inflate or deflate GPAs, and for the ones that do, one can’t be positive how accurate their assessments will be. Unlike a basketball game, GPA is an inter-school competition — you’re competing against other schools that might not be redistributing grades for jobs in the marketplace. Moreover, it’s not necessarily the top person that we should be worried about, but those at the bottom of the top 10%.

    It’s telling that, as much as the commenters exclaim that it’s very easy to come up with counter-examples if given a bit of time, they seem as hard-pressed as the students.

  • Bene

    Err, gpa is specifically for rating competence. Distributing it goes directly againts what it’s for. Not so with money. It is difficult to believe there is confusion here. However I think sometimes people can analyse situations rationaly and come to the right conclusion without being able to articulate the reason why. Sometimes I feel our brain temporarily disconnects the its linguistic part in order to be able to think more quickly and abstractly. This may be what we perceive as ‘intuition’. It takes special skills to be able to always articulate into words this aspect of our reasoning.

    • Sophronius

      Yes, this is what I was thinking too. Especially nonsensical questions like the one in the video tend to make people flabbergasted.

      For example, when I argued against my room mate’s assertion that the universes temperature would gravitate towards zero Celsius, he basically said that I knew nothing of science because I don’t even know about aura’s. The fact that I couldn’t think of a reply to that does not mean that it is a valid point.

      • Mr. Moderate

        You mean zero Kelvin, not Celsius.

    • KPres

      Err, redistributing money also goes directly against what it is for. Money is a store of social value, and a storage unit isn’t storing anything if it’s content are leaked and spread throughout the environment.

      Bad argument.

      • CaptBackslap

        No, money is a way to obtain goods and services. Once you start thinking of it as some sort of scorecard, you’re going to develop an unhealthy attachment to it, and irrational beliefs and behaviors are sure to follow.

      • I think you’re going to be even worse if you ignore the plain fact that money does have social influence over people.

      • Proper Dave

        I find it weird that people doesn’t also notice that it has power… Yes technically it is just some credit to buy stuff from the productive economy. But from that flows many things and one is power if you have allot of it. So here is my reason for re-distribution, it is just the expropriation of power and that is OK, no? 🙂

    • ruralcounsel

      But we aren’t discussing money generically, we’re talking redistribution of tax revenue from taxable income, which includes both earned income and unearned income.

      Certainly earned income is society’s way of measuring the economic value of the work one performs. You have to understand Adam Smith’s view of free markets and the social good that comes from decentralized decision making, e.g., the freedom to make one’s own decisions instead of having some Grand Bureaucrat telling you what you should have and what you shouldn’t have.

      The analogy for unearned income is a bit more attenuated, but can be thought of as the benefits one receives from one’s antecedents via genetics and social environment, like IQ, access to good schools, having a “Tiger Mom”.

  • Sophronius

    This does not at all indicate that people are hypocrites. All this video shows is that when random people are asked nonsensical questions, they can’t immediately explain why it is nonsensical. I’ll agree that people feel compelled to hold opinions when they don’t have a clue, but that’s another matter altogether, and has nothing to do with this video.

    • KPres

      You comment is pointless blabber unless and until you explain why you think the question nonsensical.

      • Sophronius

        I can’t believe this needs explaining, but ok.

        On the one hand, there is a belief that rich people should be taxed more than poor people, in an attempt to increase the total welfare of the country. This is a standard economic principle, and almost every country in the world has implemented it to some extent.

        On the other hand, we have people asking whether GPA should be redistributed, which would completely defeat the point of having a rating system in the first place. These people pretend that these are the same issues, and immediately cut off the video whenever one of the students looks like they are about to explain why this is nonsense.

        The only way this question would be a valid analogy would be if those students were seriously proposing that the total wealth of the country would be distributed evenly across the population, leaving no income differences whatsoever and destroying the main incentive to be productive. As I do not think any of them believed it (other than any communists among the crowd, I suppose) this is a complete strawman.

      • KPres


        If these students were seeing the GPA as merely a rating system as you say, they should have no problem with with redistributing it, because so long as the RANKING is intact (top 10%, top 20%, etc, etc), it’s effectiveness as a rating system is uncompromised. It’s just that now a 3.5 will come to mean what a 4.0 used to mean, and a 2.5 will mean what a 2.0 used to mean. This would require an across the board redistribution of every student.

        However, the fact that they’re opposed to redistributing GPA means that they’re thinking the redistribution will compromise the rating system, effectively giving more credit to students than they’ve earned. As mentioned elsewhere in the thread, this could happen if, say, only one college decided to institute the redistribution. (It doesn’t matter that they’re not aware of all of this reasoning at the time of the questioning, the fact that they have a negative reaction reveals that they intuitively see it this way).

        So the point is, that the only way they could rationally be opposed to GPA redistribution is if something meaningful (ie, something with utility) was being redistributed. In that sense (which is the important sense), it is exactly like redistribution of wealth.

  • josh

    All true. This is why democracy is so easily rigged.

  • Russ Andersson

    The comparison between GPA and wealth sharing is weak and detracts from the validity of the post, as GPA redistrobution is fundamentally a different premise from wealth distrobution. Students may not be able to articulate it easily, but their intuition tells them its different so I am not sold on this point on the basis of the video, because it was a spurious comparison on several levels.

    However, the main point of the post is interesting … that most people feel entitled to have opinions about subjects they know nothing about and can add no value on. They would be wiser to simply say I don’t know and need more information.

    I guess the reason this persists is that there is no clear feedback loop to show people how wrong their opinions actually are, and why their gut feel responses add no value.

    Its not unlike sports analysts on TV, they can spout on about anything, because there is never a reconciliation between what they said would happen and what actually happened, so its hard to tell how truly clueless they are. Same with my friends, if I measured the accuracy of their statements against reality, and then showed them how much BS they were talking, maybe they would be more inclined to think before they spoke.

  • Zjeb

    Wouldn’t the students prefer to spend their fees on a trip to Bangkok instead of on your salary if they were absolutely free from any societal constraints in their reasoning? ;> I am sure they would find more rationalizations than you can hear during the day.

    I am really wondering when your status quo challenging may reveal that the USA emerged because white Europeans didn’t have any really justifiable reasons to colonize the North America when using modern-day intellectual-pacifist ethics. Disclaimer – I am based in Europe and I wasn’t exposed to too many rationalizations for building the land of freedom blah blah blah. All your hunter-farmer theories sort of miss the period of sailing through the Atlantic to put it euphemistically. 😉

    I think some of your blog posts on American society may need to be geographically restricted. Some English speakers from other parts of the world may really enjoy your blog, but don’t think that this is a strong enough rationale for America’s society existence. 😉

  • Michael Foody

    The students at the bottom of the top ten percent would still be at the bottom of the top ten percent. Yes if a single school did this top students from this school would be at a disadvantage relative to students from other schools if no one paid any attention to what was going on. If all schools did this it would be meaningless and not actually hurt or help people. The point of the basketball analogy is simply that GPA like points in a basketball game are there for the express purpose of keeping score. Your objection to my analogy is valid on it’s own but not valid in the context of the discussion because it has no analogue vis a vis progressive taxation.

    • osc

      The analogy stands. The students in _this_ video were asked to a sign a petition for _their_ school to redistribute grades. This dilutes the value of their grades in the national/global marketplace. Think of grades as money, which can be used to purchase jobs — the more money you have, the more products you can purchase; the higher grades you have, the more “quality” of a job you can purchase (a better job). The students in this video do not want to redistribute grades, NOT because of any ranking system, but because it would dilute their ability to compete with others for jobs at schools that do not redistribute grades — it would dilute their buying power. Everyone would rather graduate with a 4.0 rather than a 3.5 because it enables them to get (“buy”) a better job; similarly, everyone would rather have 100,000 dollars than 80,000 dollars because it enables them to get (“buy”) better items.

      This is the same reason people don’t necessarily care that redistributive taxation still makes them richer than the next bracket. It’s the fact that they have less money, therefore able to purchase less than before.

    • osc

      Also, I’m not sure if you realize this, but you’re arguing that GPA redistribution actually doesn’t matter because it is a relative value, not an absolute value. This would be further evidence that the students’ natural inclination to fight a practice that wouldn’t matter is evidence of status quo bias, backing Robin’s theory up. You’re arguing against yourself.

  • James Daniel Miller

    I showed this to my intro micro class today and it generated lots of heated discussion.

  • KPres

    What’s really being revealed here is is that young people tend to support progressive taxation more than older people simply because money doesn’t play a large role in their lives. Social status and grades are far more important to them. When the morality of redistribution is presented using a unit of measure that impacts their lives more directly, they tend to be more protective of their own “assets”, just like they will become with their money as they grow older.

    • Robert Koslover


  • Riley Jones

    Sometimes people do have complex justified intuitions that are difficult to articulate on the spot.

  • Jeff

    The reason it makes sense to redistribute wealth and not GPA is that wealth can be invested and compounded into more wealth… GPA cannot. If schools allowed students who earned a 4.0 this semester to accept a 3.8 plus credit for an additional 0.22 GPA next semester, and then implemented a school-wide curve to average students down to a 3.0, we could see how students who started off with a high GPA would benefit enormously at the expense of those who earned a lower GPA in just the first semester. Now, imagine how unfair this system would be if you could inherit additional GPA points from your parent alumni? Dopes with smart parents would then be able to graduate with a 4.0 while failing, and the curve would bring down hard working students.

    Compounding interest allows wealthy individuals (or just good savers) to earn more each year with no incremental effort or work. I’m not supporting higher taxes or greater wealth distribution, but this analogy is simplified to the point of being useless.

    • osc

      I don’t see how this changes the analogy. Consider a world in which GPA can be invested, then. Those individuals with higher GPAs would still want to keep their initial GPA, because it would result in a higher invested GPA over time — thus enabling them to “buy” a better job in the long-run. Why should they be allowed to only invest their GPA if they have to redistribute part of it first? That’s not analogous to the real world at all.

  • John

    “Most people believe that redistributing money within a nation is good, but that redistributing GPA within a school is bad, and if asked why these should be treated differently, have little to say

    This is the critical point. It’s only fair to accuse someone of hypocrisy if they can’t think of plausible reason to justify the disconnect. For example, I often hear people say that conservatives are hypocrites when they oppose abortion support the death penalty. But if you ask a conservative on the spot why those issues should treated differently, they can usually offer some plausible reasons (ie. murders are guilty, fetuses aren’t). You might disagree with those reasons, but you can’t deny that conservatives have them.

  • The entire comment stream is devoted, not to discuss the observation of hypocrisy that Robin made, but to try and find excuses in support of the same inconsistent hypocritical beliefs that the video itself lampoons.

    Great catch, Robin 🙂

    • lemmy caution

      You should look up what the word “hypocrisy” means:

      Hypocrisy is the state of pretending to have beliefs, opinions, virtues, feelings, qualities, or standards that one does not actually have.

      Hypocrisy doesn’t mean inconsistent or self-motivated behavior or thoughts. What are the students in the video pretending?

      • John-Henry

        Words don’t have intrinsic meanings. Their connotation is an aspect of you, not of the word. I think Robin is using a different definition of hypocrisy than you.

      • lemmy caution

        What alternate definition of hypocrisy is he using? I honestly don’t know.

        The concept of hypocrisy is muddled because the paradigmatic example comes from Jesus in the new testament. Pharisees believed they were pious because they followed certain codes; Jesus believed that they were not pious because they were following the wrong codes. They said they were pious but they were not pious. thus Jesus called them hypocrites. This is a little like calling someone a hypocrite for saying “I was not speeding.” when they did not know that the speed limit had dropped by 10mph, but whatever. I will give Jesus some rhetorical slack. This isn’t a helpful guide to the use of the term “hypocrisy” though.

      • anon

        If one’s behavior or thoughts are inconsistent with self-reported beliefs, opinions, virtues, feelings, qualities, or standards, how is that not hypocrisy? The students in the video presumably claim to be egalitarians, which they obviously aren’t.

      • MyName

        “The students in the video presumably claim to be egalitarians, which they obviously aren’t.”

        No, I think the problem is that you are presuming that just because they support equality of opportunity, which is to say it is good for society to have a safety net even if at some cost to high achievers, they also support forced equality in society (i.e. equality in various degrees of socialism versus equality in communism).

        More than that, the GPA analogy is a very poor and confusing one because you are asking to redistribute a system that is designed to measure quality of ones work, while income is not solely (or even primarily) determined by the quality of your work, but rather the scarcity of your skills in the market.

  • Thought experiment: imprison some percent of the population for political reasons — say, because they criticized the government or something. Their productive capacity is gone.

    Someone comes along and suggests diverting some wealth from the people outside prisons to these prisoners.

    You point out that they don’t advocate redistributing GPA, and what’s the difference between that and giving the prisoners wealth? The prisoner advocates don’t have an immediate reply, but intuitively see that those are not the same.
    For the analogy impaired: proponents of redistribution generally feel that those earning lower incomes are doing so because they were unfairly denied opportunities. Yes, they produce less, but that lower productivity is not their fault, and so some amount of redistribution is justified, and the reasons for such do not carry over to redistributing GPA — for example, because the GPA needs to remain a strong signal of performance, irrespective of the socioeconomic reasons that got the student to that point. Personal consumption level has no such constraint.

    There, I showed how I can think like a bleeding-heart liberal without being one, something Robin Hanson failed to do here, it seems.

    • John

      Your argument boils down to “GPA needs to remain a strong signal of performance, irrespective of the socioeconomic reasons that got the student to that point,” since as you admit GPA, just like income, can be influenced by “unfair” factors.

      And here’s the problem: something can serve multiple purposes! Often there’s a tradeoff between two purposes, but that doesn’t mean we have to only pursue one of them. Many carpool lanes allow “green” vehicles now, which reduces their effectiveness at reducing congestion and encouraging carpooling.

      Similarly, just because you believe that GPA should be one thing (strong signal of performance) that doesn’t mean that you can’t trade that purpose off against another (helping out disadvantaged students).

      • Similarly, just because you believe that GPA should be one thing (strong signal of performance) that doesn’t mean that you can’t trade that purpose off against another (helping out disadvantaged students).

        Either way, it’s not some automatic, damning point against the position of redistributing income but not GPA — for example, you may want to ameliorate the socioeconomic disadvantages of low academic performance in ways that don’t destroy the information value of GPA. (It’s much the same reason why the Olympics and other competitions try to find the best perform *without* adjusting for marginal differences in opportunity — even if there are spearate competitions that want to take these into account [special Olympics, paralympics …])

        Since the entire point of Robin Hanson’s post was to argue that such a position *is* in fact, damningly inconsistent, I think it’s clear he’s in error there.

      • Wonks Anonymous

        Silas: “Since the entire point of Robin Hanson’s post was to argue that such a position *is* in fact, damningly inconsistent”
        Robin: “My point isn’t to say one can’t come up with reasons to treat these differently. […] My point is that most people can’t think of such reasons, making it pretty unlikely that such reasons are the cause of their opinions.”
        It is evidence in favor of his argument that you are merely playing Devil’s Advocate, finding an argument for a position even though that argument isn’t actually the cause of your own opinion (“I showed how I can think like a bleeding-heart liberal without being one”).

      • Yikes. Sorry. But then Hanson looks even worse: he’s using as evidence the fact that people can’t come up with with reconcilations of their views *on the spot*. Yes, you can come up with reasons — but not if you haven’t fleshed out your intuitions on the topic! He should first see what the best advocates say about the differences, not random mouthbreathers.

        I mean, unless he’s just trying to score cheap points or something…

      • Wonks Anonymous

        I agree that people can’t be expected to explain their beliefs (derived from intuition) on the spot. But on the other hand, under Hanson’s theory “best advocates” are going to be better at disguising their rationalization. If they’ve put a lot of thought into it, they may actually come to better conclusions. But the actual merits of redistribution (or any specific policy) wasn’t really the point of the post.

  • John

    Oddly enough, some evidence suggests that liberal professors actually do redistribute grades. So maybe people are less hypocritical than they think they are. From the paper below:

    “The evidence suggests that student grades are linked to the political orientation of professors: relative to their Democratic colleagues, Republican professors are associated with a less egalitarian distribution of grades and with lower grades awarded to Black students relative to Whites.”

    Link here.

    • In that case, it may be that professors find themselves in the same relative position with regard to policy–they themselves are not affected by the grade distribution scheme or income redistribution scheme. It’s easier to find hypocrisy in students, who would be adversely affected by one scheme, but unaffected (or even positively affected) by the other.

  • Pablo Stafforini

    A quick and obvious way of testing whether our interlocutors’ responses involve hypocrisy is to observe how they react when we succeed, by their own admission, in showing that their reasons fail to support their opinions. Do they change their opinions, or do they look for other reasons for those same opinions? Most people look for other reasons.

  • We were designed to survive and reproduce, not to be coherent.

    Then again, we need to re-think what “coherent” means. A single intellectual, or even a group of them, decides that they can’t see how some set of views is coherent. The components don’t hang together in a logical way.

    But of course they are probably missing a hidden logic that no individual or even group may be able to see. Still, this common core is what has solved our problems, so it is coherent — the components hang together in their adapting us to our environment.

  • Brent

    I think that this example tends to point out that very few people have thought out, elaborated, or structured their moral codes.

    It is probably easier to simply say that very few people even hold a moral code.

    The result is that when a person is presented with a decision, their immediate reaction is to decide if there is a personal benefit or not, and then go from there. They default to egoism, and they simply describe their ‘feelings’ when pressed, and there is bound to be hypocrisy in their unstructured moral code.

    On the other hand, having a moral code at hand, would immediately guide the students though the interaction.

    How for example would a student pacifist handle this interaction?

    First they would reject the redistributive tax code as immoral because force was involved. How about the redistribution of GPA? Further questioning is needed. Is this proposal for the university itself, or for a governmental law requiring GPA redistribution? If it is a law, it would require governmental force, so a pacifist wouldn’t accept that, but a university policy, where students voluntarily join the university would be acceptable. Then the question would be down to simply deciding if one would ‘like’ to be in that university and go from there.

    What you are seeing in this video is people who have no firm moral structure to grab on to, because they haven’t bother to build one ahead of time.

    In a situation like this, the results are simply amusing, however looking at psychological experiments like the Milgram Experiment, or the endless examples of atrocities committed around the world by those who hold no firm morals, the results can be and often are terrifying.

  • Pingback: FDA Attempts Ousting of Longtime Drug-Company CEO, and Other News | John Goodman's Health Policy Blog |

  • lemmy caution

    Redistribution of grades just seems weird. There is grade inflation and the like but it just seems weird to take a grade from someone and give it to someone else.

    It would also seem weird to do grade charity. The smart kid turns in the dumb guys test; the dumb guy turns in the smart guys test. Just because the amart guy wouldn’t do this wouldn’t make him a hypocrite if he donated blood at the red cross though.

  • GVChamp

    GPA has value as an indicator of capability. That is irrelevant, or rather, besides the point. GPA is not a perfect indicator of value. Redistributing GPA away from high-performers, who know how to game the system, to low-performers, who do not know how to game the system and also have to work more jobs, would make GPA more useful.

    I am not saying I believe this. But it’s valid, and half-way to the point made in the video. The difference is, in the real world, we automatically assume that “the poor” are deserving of our help. Except the people who don’t assume it, and immediately grab onto anecdotes of lazy poor…exactly like all the students in this video, who automatically assume all low-GPA students are simply not diligent, rather than working other jobs and unable to study as much, while high-GPA students are just naturally more awesome.

  • Alrenous

    We humans are much better at coming up with reasons for opinions than at choosing coherent sets of opinions

    That could just be because coherency is hard and there’s no incentives. Lazy incompetence. (As others have said above.)

    I suggest focusing on the fact that not only are the reasons weak and poorly related, but that they are actually contradictory.

    The problem is that the moral norms are contradictory. You can come up with reasons for taxing but not GPA-shuffling, but not ones consistent with our received moral wisdom…and the status quo is a moral norm. To admit the status quo is wrong – that either the actions or the moral wisdom must be wrong – is itself wrong. (Though some can evade the status quo norm in certain ways.)

    “My point isn’t to say one can’t come up with reasons to treat these differently.”

    If so, nobody knows what it is. Upon asking you can get only two results: waffling nonsense, or contradiction.

    Like the ‘not fair’ thing. If you dragged his justification out of him, it would prove that taxation should stop. If you point this out, he won’t change his mind, but come up with new justifications, which will also be contradictory.
    It gets boring when they forget and go back to the first justification, or when they just flat-out refuse to follow the logic, saying to its face that the contradiction doesn’t exist.

    So hypothesis: certain other comments in this thread are themselves being hypocrites. I’m almost tempted to run this experiment again on the spot, see if I can get someone to validate a prediction about them on the same actual webpage.

  • If there’s a grading analogy to economic redistributionism, it isn’t redistribute grades, a proposal that vitiates any purpose grading might have. Rather, the (partly) analogous demand is abolish grades. In the 60s this was indeed a popular demand among students who also happened to favor redistributing wealth.

    • Richard

      I do believe that those that are below average in any of the two measures (wealth and grades) would tend to agree to the redistribution proposals. That’s natural. They will be the beneficiaries. However, I don’t think that grades and money are equivalent. Grades are a much more accurate measure of performance than money is. For example, wealth can be inhereted, but grades cannot.

  • Jason

    I don’t think this represents hypocrisy so much as outsourcing to instinct. Grades are more like shell beads or marks of adulthood (gained over time), while money is more like food (shared), and these students are simply calling on this genetic memory to form a quick answer.

    Using the well known streetcar scenario, pushing the fat man in front of the streetcar is “obviously wrong” to most people while flipping the switch is “obviously right”.

    No one knows (for sure) why this is.

    That doesn’t mean everyone is being hypocritical when they answer that obviously pushing the fat man in front of the streetcar is morally wrong.

    • lemmy caution

      That seems reasonable to me.

  • The analogy doesn’t work because GPA ultimately results in a rank order, which is what really matters. It’s a zero sum game – an increase in my competitor’s grade hurts me. Redistribition of grade points would change the rank order, whereas wealth redistribution is generally intended to flatten the distribution, not change the rank order. I’m sure you could find an unreconstructed Bolshevik somewhere who wants to completely stamp out inequality, but most redistributionists will say something like

    “I offer a legislative proposal that will make everyone wish top executives Godspeed in their quest for the American dream: Allow executives of publicly traded companies, companies receiving public aid, and companies doing business with the government to earn as much compensation as their boards allow, as long as the total amount does not exceed 100 times the salary of that company’s lowest-paid, full-time employee.”

    (from a liberal professor somewhere on the internets).

    This implies that a certain degree of inequality is permissable, but that the amount we have today is too much. I think this is typical of modern redistributionists.

    A comparable proposal for GPA might be that you would take the square root of everybody’s GPA, pushing it closer to one for everybody, but preserving rank order. Students would be no more or less likely to get into med school, or whatever, after such a change. Nobody should really care about this change one way or another, except inasmuch as it would be sort of a pain in the ass to implement.

    But if you were to change the tax code to seriously flatten income distributions, even without changing the rank order at all, you’d better believe rich people would care. Wealth is partially about rank order, but not exclusively.

    • A comparable proposal for GPA might be that you would take the square root of everybody’s GPA, pushing it closer to one for everybody, but preserving rank order. Students would be no more or less likely to get into med school, or whatever, after such a change. Nobody should really care about this change one way or another, except inasmuch as it would be sort of a pain in the ass to implement.

      Err… am I the only one who’s been a grad student TA and had to do exactly that? 1.5 stddevs above the mean gets an A, 1 above gets a B, at the mean gets a C, 1 stddev below gets a D, and 1.5 below fails. That’s exactly what you’re talking about and it happens in colleges and universities every day — no distinction is made between the student who aced the test and the student who had to drag himself to the top of the distribution by his fingernails, as long as they’re both at the top.

  • This is such a ridiculous false equivalence.

    So when have students been able to trade GPA points for alternative goods, like popularity, an extra meatball in the lunchroom, or scrubbing a bad nickname?

    This is such a false equivalence, it’s ridiculous. If it was the norm to redistribute GPAs, it would have to be useful for something other than post-graduate possibilities. Colleges, for example, wouldn’t care to look at GPAs since they don’t necessarily equate to a student’s quality. Guess what… neither does money. The amount of money a person has does not say anything about the person other than their wealth. You can make tons of money by inventing the next best thing, being really crafty or stealing it. If I were able to figure out a way to snag more GPA points despite redistribution, right before the “sale” (college registration), then that’s as dishonest as money laundering after breaking into a bank.

    But you can’t. Because GPA points aren’t money. It’s a rank system and if everyone had the same rank, it’d be pointless. Money isn’t a ranking system. The only way this would be a reasonable comparison is if students could trade GPA points and the most popular guy sells some of his popularity for a higher GPA since that’s all he has to sell (and it’s a good commodity if you place a high value on teenage sex).

    • nazgulnarsil

      So when have students been able to trade GPA points for alternative goods, like popularity

      social life vs studying is an ongoing dilemma for every student.

  • Pingback: The Unbroken Window » Blog Archive » Consistency()

  • The video and the question say a lot more about the inanity of the questioners (and those who promulgate it further) than it does about any of the responders. If someone asked me those questions, I’d laugh at them, or perhaps stare in incredulity.

    And it has zero, zilch, nada, nothing to do with anything that can be called “hypocrisy” by any reasonable definition of the word.

    Plenty of other people above (eg Bene and Sophronius) have pointed out the reasons why. What I want to know, what is it about the GMU economics department that causes its members to consider themselves so far above the herd that they consider themselves qualified to issue blanket condemnations of other people’s thought processes? This is obviously not true, and this arrogance leads them to say foolish things on a regular basis.

    • Inane as the questions and the charge of “hypocrisy” may be, issuing condemnations of others’ thought processes is a short summary of behavioral economics. This extends well beyond GMU, and even people who have heard of behavioral econ. And while Bryan Caplan may embrace the “anti-Hansonian heuristic”, Hanson himself does not and views himself as subject to deviations from truth-seeking like any human being.

      • It is quite possible to do behavioral economics without being being judgmental, without asking crudely ideological questions that are supposed to be revealing of some deep truth, without adopting annoying faux-naive[*] postures, and without abusing the english language.

        [*] I do not believe that Hanson is too dumb to be able to figure out the differences between monetary redistribution and GPA redistribution, so his pose of pretending not to be able to see them is a rhetorical/ideological device.

      • The post was not about whether GPA and income were the same. It was about whether the differences people cite as justification are the differences that actually cause their opinion.

      • If that was really the point, it is a trivially obvious truth that people do not have full access to the justifications for their beliefs. Unconscious processing is the norm, and the thing to be explained is how in some cases we do manage to understand the processes that lead to knowledge and belief. The fact that people don’t generally know why they believe things is not “hypocrisy”, it is simply how minds work.

        And if that was really the point, there are much better ways to illustrate it then with a question that manages to be both inane and politically charged.

      • Yes, it probably would have been more effective if he had started with his general claim, and then used the video as an example. Linking to Ignorance About Intuitions (and his previous intuition post linked from there) might also have been appropriate.

  • OnTopic

    To clear a few things up and continue some of the other academic discussions being held:

    1) The main point of the post (and, I think, the most interesting)
    “My point is that most people can’t think of such reasons, making it pretty unlikely that such reasons are the cause of their opinions.”
    – Robin Hanson
    In other words, these students have firm opinions, both about taxation and GPAs, yet the reasons that WOULD make their opinions consistent are not the reasons they can think of. Whether some of the students were about to give a good reason or not does not detract from the truth of the main point as it applies to this and other areas of opinion. (e.g. anti-abortion, pro-death-penalty advocates)

    2) GPA
    Is not a “ranking system”. Ranking is only relative standing. The highest GPA could be 3 points or 1 point higher than the next highest, and still be ranked the same.

    3) Progressive income taxes
    are NOT an attempt to increase the total welfare of the country. The attempt is a REDISTRIBUTION of income.

    3) GPA vs. Income redistribution
    Redistributing GPA would undermine the PURPOSE of the GPA, which is to indicate capability (however flawed it may be as an indicator). If Jack had a 4.0, taking 1/2 a point away from him would give him a 3.5, and maybe Jill would go from a 2.0 to a 2.5. Now it seems like Jack and Jill are closer in capability, when before they were not as close. (Perhaps they truly are closer and Jill was born with ADHD, but then the issue is with the GPA as an indicator of capability. Then again, the interviewer labeled a 4.0 as excessive…if this were true, taking points from those “excessive” GPAs would not really undermine the purpose. But anyone trying to get into med school would say a 4.0 is not excessive).

    Redistributing income would not undermine the PURPOSE of income, which is to enable people to buy more things.

    4) Some of you devil’s advocates out there could try to think of ways in which the two redistributions ARE similar…then think which are the more relevant comparisons and contrasts.

  • Sophronius

    As someone who has studied behavioural economics, I have never found anything judgemental about it or the way it was taught. In fact, it disclaimers such as “now, it’s not clear whether this really is irrational or not, as that depends on preferences…” and such. However, the clear facts do show that people are an irrational bunch, as they constantly make contradictory decisions and justify their actions afterwards. There is no justifying that.

  • stephen

    The argument about redistribution of wealth/GPA is irrelevant. The hypocrisy is in the student’s incoherent, strongly espoused beliefs.

    There are a lot of well-written posts here that do not seem to get that point. Here is a rewording of the scenario.

    Say it is public policy to redistribute apples from people with orchards to people without. This is widely agreed to be beneficial to society as it prevents cases of vitamin deficiency and apple hoarding. Now say the candy bar industry is considered fully private, but it is decided that government regulation of candy bars would increase general happiness and well-being. So now chocolate is redistributed from the chocolate haves to the chocolate have-nots, just like apples, but without the obvious benefits.

    It is much easier to react calmly and think about what is at stake in this example, where wealth and GPA are both represented by materials instead. Now say someone posed this question had strong opinions why chocolate bars should not be redistributed, not because apples promote health and chocolate does not (much), but because the chocolate industrialists have a right to the “fruits” of their work, claiming that this policy would discourage private investment in producing any type of calorie that might eventually be regulated.

    Hard to imagine that someone could miss the blatant hypocrisy in that, right? (Apple owners do not owe you calories either.)

    The test was not to elicit a better or worse explanation of the qualitative differences between GPA and wealth–even a “wrong” response would have shown the student attempted the necessary comparing and contrasting–the test was in watching the path they take to their opinions, which often completely skips doing the comparison the question requires.

    If you let reason trail opinion it would be amazingly lucky if you didn’t hold conflicting beliefs. The kids aren’t necessarily holding wrong views, but they arrived at them through a method that does not screen for coherency.

    • Sophronius

      No, we get it. We just disagree that this example displays such hypocrisy. For one thing, because the video is blatantly biased and cuts of responses. For another thing, because the comparison is so silly that it leaves the students flabbergasted.

      It would be an entire thing altogether if the makers of the video asked students a) why they believe the rich should be taxed higher, and b) why this should not be the case for something similar that is currently to their advantage, and the students came up with excuses in a way that favoured them while still claiming the moral high ground. Instead, we have a video where some guy asks a nonsensical question and students go “what”.

  • MarcTheEngineer

    It would be interesting if instead of redistributing GPA they asked if people would support mandatory tutoring requirements for the top 10% of GPA’s, the higher your GPA the more hours you are required to spend tutoring…. not showing up would result in a penalty to their GPA. There would be no requirements for the bottom GPA “earners” to actually show up for their tutoring (just like there is no expectation for the bottom earners to show benefit/improvement from the wealth they receive in redistribution).

    I’d argue that people would react even more vehemently against such a proposal because it “feels” like slave labour, despite being similar in a lot of ways to wealth redistribution (where the top earners are required to spend more of their time to achieve an identical amount of wealth due to their income being redistributed).
    Redistributing GPA itself is fundamentally different because if I take 50% of someones income they can try to work harder to have a net income equal to what it would be without the redistribution, with GPA redistribution there is nothing the top earners can do to regain their lost GPA.

    • MyName

      Again, it isn’t analogous because the amount people make isn’t directly tied to the quality of their work (which is what GPA ranks), but rather to the scarcity of their skills in the market. The skillset required to be a CEO is more scarce than that of a janitor, so they should be paid more.

      The correct analogue in school work is either grading on the curve, and possibly setting the curve so that 1-2 people who are outside of the normal are awarded extra, or offering extra credit. Required tutoring is a stupid analogy because if a student is failing and they aren’t already trying to get tutoring then maybe they deserve to fail, but I think the fundamental principle is that in a country as wealthy as ours, no one deserves to starve (which is “life failure” you might say).

  • radu427

    At the scale of hole humanity the GPA distribution already happened. We all free ride on the efforts for rationality of peaple like Viterbi, Kalman or Von Neumann to name a few. Their excessive “GPA” has been distributed or how else can you call the fact that most of us have free access to very advanced stuff without been able or trying to unerstanding the underlying mechanisms.

    • I like that thought.

      Thinking is inherently socialized, because it is entirely rooted in culture and language. “Intellectual property” is an artificial and oxymoronic concept. Although perhaps useful for short-term reinforcement, like grades and GPA, if thought has any lasting value than it does so by belonging to the world.

  • Mal

    GPA’s are capped at 4. I think if you capped income, no one would argue for income redistribution.

    False equivalence.

    • Morgan

      Best point to be made so far.

      I’d also like to add, that in addtion to GPA’s being capped, one can’t inherit GPA, or be given a GPA bonus unrelated to a class.

      The analogy also falls down in that there isn’t a finite amount of GPA to be spread through a school. Everyone has the opportunity to make a 4.0 and no more than that. If it was even remotely distributed the same, the top 300,000 people would have (quoting a times article) 440 times the income as the bottom 150Million people.

      So in GPA terms 1% of in a graduation class of 1000 kids, where everyone had a 4.0 that was distributed, the top 1 kid would have a GPA of 2000, and the bottom 500 would have a 1.0 essentially.

      So yeah if GPA worked in same realm of complexity as money, perhaps those same students would be all for redistribution.

    • Incomes are now capped at ten trillion per year. People do still argue for redistribution.

      • Incomes are not capped. A period of hyperinflation could easily drive incomes past the $10 trillion range, as has happened in other places many times.

        In post WWII Hungary, inflation reached 4.19 × 10^16 % for July 1946. With that kind of inflation, even those making minimum wage would have to be making more than $10 trillion per hour.

      • Hans

        Under the standard academic model the average GPA is 2.0 and the maximum GPA is 4.0. The average income is not five trillion per year.

        Still false equivalence.

  • “My point is that most people can’t think of such reasons, making it pretty unlikely that such reasons are the cause of their opinions.”

    I disagree with this most vehemently. I agree with the premise, and I agree with the conclusion, but the one does not follow from the other. I would say that it is exceedingly uncommon for people to be able to think of the causes of their opinions. To determine why you believe what you believe is a difficult task even for someone who is unusually well-trained in introspection. For a random person, it’s likely hopeless.

  • Tony B

    Those with high GPAs also generally do not get this high GPA via transferring of others’ GPA points, willingly or unwillingly, to them.

  • Pritchard

    GPA is not comparable to income tax.

    Any attempt to frame the question as apples to apples is simplistic and tripe. ( This is zero sum logic that would equate abortion with murder via versa [Dead is dead ])

    GPA to Income cannot be related because of socio-economic realities that this video and commentary glosses over. The GPA argument is built upon the rationale that each pupil is starting from the same point and all achievement of a “4.0 student” is wholly merit based.

    When constant stats come out proving that the majority of wealth is based on inheritance this merit based income argument is a shame.

    I am pretty disappointed in the simplicity but it is funny to see a bunch of kids not realizing their beliefs are predicated on a value system they have never evaluated.

  • Dave

    The fact that everyone goes for the bait here has to do with the fact that equality and GPA are big items in their mind-scapes. They reflexively feel the need to justify each instance of “inequality” and to ameliorate it.

    Actually there is little relationship between the progressive income tax and redistribution.The rich justifiably pay the most for governments operation because they can afford it and they buy more things. Government revenues are not spent largely to redistribute wealth but for the general welfare.

    Most taxes are not progressive. A lot of government revenue does not even come from tax payers but is borrowed from the Chinese.

  • Mr. Moderate

    Actually that is what colleges do but it’s done on a per-exam basis. It’s called distributing the grades on a bell curve. Almost every class and professor does this. If they’ve been doing their job correctly for enough years then they should have a distribution that is fairly reasonable, so don’t have a bunch of people getting A’s and a few B’s and no C’s, D’s or F’s. However when things go askew and the class average is a 50 instead of a 75, they “grade on a curve” and redistribute the scores into a normal distribution to account for the discrepancy.

  • MyName

    Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see how this is “hypocrisy” claiming to have moral standards or beliefs which one does not conform to. Rankings or Grades does not equal Income. I mean, are you now also going to make the claim that employees with good evaluations should now redistribute some of their points to employees with mediocre or bad evaluations so that everyone is “above average”?

    The amount of income you earn does not directly correspond to the quality of job you are doing but rather the scarcity of your skills in comparison to the market at large. A lousy CEO (even one that runs the company into the ground) will always get paid more than an excellent janitor. The point is that if you want to make sure the unemployed or destitute aren’t just wandering the streets starving and sick, you might need to tax the CEO rather than the janitor.

  • This is pretty dumb – you can’t eat GPA. A roof isn’t put over a child’s head with GPA. When the interviewees told the interviewers that the two are different I wish the interviewer did a better job explaining why he thinks they’re the same.

    The way they treat progressive income taxes is mistaken too – diminishing marginal utility of money and all that. Flat taxes are regressive from a welfare perspective. Clearly we aren’t capable hitting on the “right” progressive tax structure that equalizes the marginal disutility of taxation – but rejecting a progressive tax structure certainly doesn’t provide the right solution.

    I’m surprised this example has gotten the press that it has. I’m personally not all that impressed.

  • Joshua

    It looks like you saw the weakness in your argument and added the addendum to try and mitigate it a little. And the answer is, yes, I think people would have had a much better response if they had an hour or a week to themselves to think about the answer. Instead the question is sprung on them, there is a combative antagonist and there is at least one additional camera person circling them. All this proves is that gotcha questions startle people. Well done! Great research!

  • Tel

    Don’t we already distribute GPA? Some athletics departments are particularly adept at doing this in order to meet eligibility requirements.

    GPA’s are capped at 4. I think if you capped income, no one would argue for income redistribution.

    There’s also a floor of 0, which isn’t the case with net income.

  • Brian Begley

    The 2 obvious differences that stand out to me are:
    1) The children of people with poor GPAs don’t go hungry as a result of the parents grades.
    2) We also don’t allow wealthy people to “invest” in people to take their tests and do their homework for them.

  • Spandrell

    Oscar goes to Mal! Good point.

    But its irrelevant to the post. Problem being people dont think over their moral beliefw, yet are very opinionated. Which is bad.

  • Scott

    Another interpretation of the evidence:

    Students who had prior understanding and beliefs regarding both progressive taxation and GPAs were presented with an incomplete analogy between these two concepts in a high pressure interview scenario. Students were not able to refute this (poor) analogy eloquently, but were able to notice discrepancies in the comparison at a surface level (i.e. “grades aren’t the same as money”).

    This is evidence that analogical reasoning is hard. It is especially true when you are not provided with all of the relevant information to map the two situations together. Without fully comprehending the analogy, it is perfectly natural to say that “these two situations are not the same” because all analogues, by definition, are not the same.

  • Jeff Hopkins

    Let me see if I have this right: while the author is smart enough to imagine plausible arguments to treat redistribution of wealth and redistribution of GPA scores differently (duh!), the rest of us aren’t, therefore we are hypocrites. Is this a blog or an echo chamber?

  • Pingback: so many trons — my internal bias()

  • Brian Mowrey

    “We humans are much better at coming up with reasons for opinions than at choosing coherent sets of opinions – we clearly have a powerful inbuilt capacity for hypocrisy.
    Those who think it unfair to evaluate what students said on the spot, how much better do you think the reasons would have become if the students were given an hour to think about it by themselves?  A week?”

    This seems like contradiction (apparently now defined as ‘hipocracy’).

    To start from the beginning, your post is ‘about’ (ruminates on preexisting conclusions on) how 1 How people don’t scrutinize their own beliefs and 2 How the brain tends not to change belief when confronted with external or internal contradictions.
    A video about how students react in the space of a few seconds to the appearance of internal contradiction is an example of the first subject but doesn’t have anything valuable to show on the second. Should people REALLY abandon their beliefs after two seconds of not being able to think of a defense for them or else be labelled a hypocrite? Building mentalities and self-conceptions of identity on shorthand / ‘instinctual’ belief is a process-package included in bias but not the same as the action of discarding contradictions to maintain preexisting beliefs known as rationalization (or ‘hypocrisy’, for today). For one thing, people learn through teenage years that they tend to maintain their beliefs after being presented with a tough question, at the end of the day, so switching beliefs instantaneously is not a correct bet on the outcome of prolonged thought. For better or worse. This video just isn’t an example of rationalization in action.
    But then, when this is pointed out, the strange thing is that you defend your point by arguing that rationalization doesn’t exist. You rhetorically ask if answers in support of a preexisting belief would improve after a space of more than two seconds. Seriously? You have to ask if they would have better answers to support their existing pair of beliefs and justify their non-contradiction after an hour? Of course they would. THAT’S rationalization.

    PS the difference is as others have said that no-one ever has MORE GPA than they need / than can impact qualitative life outcomes and no one literally inherits GPA from their parents. The question seems hard because we’re tempted to frame an argument at first that GPA doesn’t have a life-outcome influence, and then realize that is an unevaluated thought that doesn’t hold up, probably an idea we fall into because examples of GPA not returning value to its earners receive more attention. For example, did you know there is a video showing that students spending thousands of dollars on their education aren’t being taught how to think about their own beliefs?

  • Chris

    Mal pretty much knocked it out of the park.

  • uffthefluff

    Okay, fine, we’ll just have one flat national tax on any income/increase in wealth and then use the money to fund mostly things that benefit rich people, so as to avoid redistribution.

    Anything to silence the whining.

  • Andrew

    This is so dumb. I’m all for grade redistribution, provided that on your report card, you get to put your actual GPA next to your redistributed GPA, you know, just as you would report your total income and then your tax liability.

    It’s funny that this Robin Hanson fellow writes about overcoming bias.

  • marsmont

    Hey, sign my petition that says my orange-colored apple is actually an orange.

    No you say? You hypocrite.

    Regardless of what you think about the answers people give to this petitioner’s question, a GPA to wealth comparison is pretty lousy. Consider a scenario that would be more equal — this question posed in a world where income distribution looks like that for GPA. The most you could ever possibly make is $400,000, and the average is something like $250,000 (350,000 if you go to Harvard) with a median income more like $300,000. Does wealth redistribution make sense in this world? That might be an interesting question. Or, lets try to make GPA distribution more wealth-like and look at quintiles. In your college of 100 students, the top 20 have 90% of the GPA (kinda like if they had an average GPA of 3.6) wile the the other 80% have the rest (as if they all had a GPA of 0.4). So you graduate in the 75th percentile, but your transcript reports you did worse than fail. Yeah, this isn’t a perfect analogy either, but I think it gets to the point.

    And as for the skepticism in the original post about the ability for these individuals to come up with a good reason for their thinking — ask anyone who has collected signatures whether the people they interacted with gave them much more than the time of day, much less than a nuanced discussion of why they didn’t quite agree with the premise of the petition. This is just the wrong setting to engage people in a conversation, so it seems like drawing blanket decisions about whether they would be able to write a better paper about it given the time seems petty short-sighted.

  • Tim

    To some extent, the idea that this is hypocrisy says more about the accuser than anyone else. It is pretty obvious to anyone that GPAs and income are completely different beasts – the idea that one can easily make some argument from equivalence is bizarre to me.

    I’m not quite sure where the accusation is coming from. Is the idea something like:
    a) GPAs and income are pretty much the same – just ways of keeping score of who’s winning at life
    b) That all decisions and beliefs should be the result of logical deduction from a clear set of principles

  • Lattelibrul

    The only thing that’s clear from all this silliness is that the author doesn’t understand what the word hypocrite means. I didn’t see evidence that anyone was pretending to support a position that was different from what he/she privately believed.

    What you meant to say, I assume, is that when confronted with a flawed analogy, these students, while instinctively sensing the logical fallacies, had difficulty stating their arguments and supporting them with evidence when being put on the spot for a few seconds, on camera, and probably just wanting to get on with their lives, having no stake at all in providing a well-reasoned answer.

    Well. What a surprising finding. You really should publish a paper, but be sure to look up the big words in a dictionary before you submit it.

  • You’re right Robin, the video is rather infuriating, mostly because it’s overly simplistic and originates from a flawed premise. Conservatives such as the one in the video seem fond of framing the economic debate as merely a redistribution of wealth; the liberals want to take money away from the hard workers and “give it” to the undeserving. When framed in that manner, I doubt anyone would support it.

    However, by the same logic, you could ask these kids if, after graduation, they deserve a higher paying job in relation to earning higher GPAs or should everyone earn the same salary, simply by dint of graduating from the same college. I doubt if any of these students would agree to this overly simplistic framing of the conservative opinion either.

  • Jason Lemieux

    GPA is on a 4-point scale (4.33 at some schools). You can only acquire so much of it, and the returns become increasingly diminished toward the top (say above 3.5 at a tough school). I won’t bother to calculate the equivalent scale in wealth or income between the richest one percent of the US and that percentage living below the poverty line, but suffice to say that it’d sound something like a discussion about redistributing the top 100,000 off somebody’s GPA of 5 million, which will leave him utterly unaffected in material terms, to give to somebody else whose welfare (as opposed to comfort) will be improved.

    I worked my balls off at an Ivy League school to land a 3.64, which sets me up for any grad school in the country but by no means sets me for life. If I had a GPA of 100,000 and 3.64 was still enough to get me into Harvard, I would gladly and publicly give the rest away and make no bones about the fact that others in the same situation are turds for failing to do the same.

  • joey

    In other news, when people are asked completely inane and nonsensical questions, they have a hard explaining their opinions.

    And I am surprised that people here haven’t mentioned the main reason that GPA is not like wealth: GPA is nonrival, wealth is rival.

    That is, one’s increase in GPA doesn’t detract from another’s GPA the same way that wealth necessarily does. Hence grade inflation. Now, one might say that if everyone had 4.0 gpas it would hurt those who truly deserved the 4.0 gpa, but given how grade decisions are made on a class by class, and school by school basis, the end result is near universal grade inflation.

    If one wanted a school equivalent to wealth, that would be teacher time, given that it is limited and rival. And in that case, we’d find out that people aren’t in fact, hypocrites. I think it is pretty much universally accepted that it is ok and encouraged that teachers focus on those struggling the most during their office hours and tutorial sessions.

    The sad outcome of posts like these is that truly abysmal, poorly thought out videos like the one above are given the time of day.

  • Pingback: Progressive Grading in School()

  • Karl Hallowell

    Those who think it unfair to evaluate what students said on the spot, how much better do you think the reasons would have become if the students were given an hour to think about it by themselves? A week?

    I think it would be at least better thought out than on the spot rationalizations. Giving a student a week to think about it probably isn’t going to change anything. There weren’t many problems that I thought a week about when I was that age.

    Then there’s also group discussion. Humans naturally think and don’t think about things in groups. My view is that a group of three students discussing the subject probably separately would come to more nuanced and perhaps rational understanding of the subject than if they worked in isolation. Their combined opinion (knowledge by committee) might be considerably weaker.

  • Randaly

    Income leads fairly directly to consumption and presumably happiness; GPA is used as a signal by employers and colleges to select high-intelligence/diligent/conforming/whatever people. Equalization of income would lead fairly directly to equalization of happiness (and, assuming declining marginal happiness returns to income, an increase in total happiness); equalization of GPA would lead to colleges and employers seeking out new signals.

    • GPA is used as a signal by employers

      Really? You’ve known employers who ask/care about the GPA of applicants? I’ve never heard of such a thing.

  • The issue is a lot simpler than people are making it out to be.

    Most accept that achievement is the result of some combination of innate talent and environmental advantages or disadvantages.

    The difference between income and GPA is that with income the advantages are far more in play than with GPA, so it makes more sense for taxation to be progressive. In other words, there’s a clearer direct link between advantage and income in the minds of most people than there is between advantage and GPA.

    With GPA it’s easier to say to oneself that doing homework and studying extensively for exams is the result of hard work rather than advantage, whereas with a high salary it’s easier to imaging many other advantages leading to that outcome, e.g. Daddy called and told the guy to give me the high-paying position.

  • Matt Flipago

    Wow these college students are not smart. Changing the range from 0-4 to 1.5-3.5 is meaningless. Gpa is about class rank.

    Why don’t we just change gpa from 0-8. Everyone would have higher GPA’s.


    “the top 10% income earners pay 50% of the taxes???
    Wait, I have to review that ignorant statement to be sure that’s what this person is saying….yup that’s his penurious, picayune point!
    Well, income distribution has 0 to do with taxes in an analysis of income distribution. 30% of 250,000 to 1,000,000 is unequivocably more more than 30% of 15.000.
    But 50 billion gross that yields taxes less than 30% of 150,000 is proof that income is a bogus criterion of assesment of value (or utility) except as is necessary for the maintainance of ststus quo.

  • Carl M

    The analogy is flawed for lots of reasons, but the main one I see is that the argument seems to be based on the premise that we should be doing in society something closer to what we do in schools.

    Well, here’s what we do in schools. We distribute resources where they are needed the most. Those students with lower GPAs are those most likely to need and be directed to things like tutoring services, they’re the ones that require the most additional work from the teachers, etc. This is as it should be. Just as those who are most in need in society should be the ones to get the most help from those institutions most able to help them (I’m thinking of the government here).

  • chaosakita

    Wow, what a bunch of libertarian/conservative nonsense. I hate to add a political bent to it, but this is just a terrible analogy.

    People’s GPA is a matter of their own choices – of what school they choose to go to, what classes they choose to take, and how hard they choose to work. Some people can’t naturally get a high GPA, but it was probably their fault for choosing their subject and choosing to go to a party instead of a library. However, for those people, chances are, their GPA doesn’t even matter. For most jobs require a college degree, employers only want the sheepskin. It is only for grad school applicants that GPA particularly matters.

    On the other hand, money is none of those things. Having a low GPA doesn’t prevent you from raising it later, but having a low income is going to hinder you from raising it. A lot of things other than choice depend on how much income you make. And finally, rather than just mattering for grad school, money determines more things in life. A lot more things.

  • Pingback: Natural Hypocrisy | Overcoming Bias |

  • Pingback: The question is, do you deserve it? « Nation of Beancounters()

  • Console

    Two words, curved grading

    How hard was that? Is complete and utter lack of self awareness a prerequisite for conservative thinking?

    I mean, surely you’ve encounter the concept in an academic setting. It basically devalues the grades of the top performers. But we still try to fit a bell curve because we recognize that the classroom isn’t a perfect measure of academic ability and that groups of people don’t differ by very much.

  • Pingback: Redistributing grades - CycloneFanatic()

  • James

    What world are you living in? Grades are already massively redistributed at the university level. (Apologies if another comment already made the same point.) At most universities, there’s a huge pressure on professors from the administration to give grades no one will complain about, in other words, good ones.

  • Pingback: Should We Redistribute Grades Like We Do Income? | Economy news()

  • Pingback: Redistribute Sex - Divorce My Car()

  • Pingback: If We Want to Redistribute Income – Why Not Grades? | College Republican National Committee – Speak Out()

  • Pingback: Loser men — Marginal Revolution()

  • Bo Anderson

    I feel like a big difference is that money is a zero-sum game while GPA/Academics is a non-zero-sum game

  • steven02345

    I believe this blog has a complete response the video

  • Pingback: Redistributing GPAs for Equality « Centives()

  • MadchesterSexPartySocialism

    Right, you’ve made a flawed analogy – grade points are an indicator of performance, money’s a reward for performance.

    People intuitively understand it’s flawed but when put on the spot, in front of camera, can’t quite put their finger on. Well done big fellow, aren’t you a bright chap…

    Moving on to your closing message – the richest 10% of yanks pay 50% of tax or some such: IS THAT FAIR? The implication being, I presume, that it’s not, because the richest 10% deserve to get paid what they do.

    This is a prime example of a pet hate of mine – the (particularly American?) world view, linking capitalism with morality. Which suggests that people deserve what they earn.

    For many reasons they don’t. The three simplest being – not everyone starts from the same position and that a capitalist economy, while more efficient and providing greater degree of personal freedom than other systems, has very little to do with a fair reward being paid. For example, if your in charge of a bunch lot of people, your decisions will have a big affect on the total income of said people. So, in a market economy your worth a lot. At the same time, you couldn’t be making that money if you didn’t have people to be in charge of. So it’s really totally subjective whether what you get paid is fair.

    In short, you don’t necessarily deserve what you earn, or earn what you deserve.

    Excuse the rant….

  • montypythoncleese

    This last post has FINALLY hit on a key point overlooked by the hundreds of earlier posts in regard to the “hypocrisy” element of this discussion.

    There is a hidden assumption in the hypocrisy argument, namely that college students base their espousal of redistributive taxation on popular (or once popular?) academic theories such as those of John Rawls, to the effect that ALL results in life are unearned and undeserved. Until the latest post, none of the posters has used a strong form of that argument; most have used a much weaker form in which success in GPA is held to be much more deserved than success in income.

    One who professes to hold a strong Rawlsian position and has a higher than average GPA would clearly be hypocritical in wishing to redistribute income but not GPA (from which s/he derives prestige) because in the Rawlsian account s/he does not deserve greater prestige than other people. Only if (as Rawls himself wished were true, save for the minimum incentives necessary to have people pursue careers in a way that advantages the lowest income-earners) high GPA occupations had no greater prestige and other amenities than garbage collectors would GPA be solely an indication of job aptitude and not a goodie to be undeservedly enjoyed (like money).

    Since almost all the posters base their arguments for income redistribution on marginal utility and other non-Rawlesian concepts, they are rightly puzzled by the charge of hypocrisy. Although there may be a sort of low-level hypocrisy involved in the convenient assumption that the rewards they get for doing stuff they’re good at (success in academics) just happen to be more deserved than the rewards other folks get for doing stuff they’re good at (financial success in careers), and therefore the latter, but not the former, should be subject to partial confiscation.

    Where most of these posters fail to provide a persuasive basis for their beliefs, by the way, is that once having advanced a refutation of flat taxation by arguing, in essence, “counterbalancing the partially valid anti-Rawlesian argument that people deserve to keep a substantial portion of what they earn are the needs of society for common goods, considerations of marginal utility, etc etc,” they are lost for an explanation of exactly why they believe that the tax brackets they favor optimally balance the countervailing arguments they have identified, while current tax brackets don’t optimally balance them. Instead of a calm, fact-based, measured analysis from our posters, the only voices we hear from their side (though not from them themselves) are shrill accusations of callousness and immorality.

  • Pingback: Omfördelning av betyg « Nonicoclolasos()

  • Pingback: From Each According to His Ability, To Each According to His Need « Suburban Survivalist()

  • Pingback: Overcoming Bias : More Natural Hypocrisy()

  • Jerry McGuire

    Fantastic video and point. The mindless hypocrisy of some of these people is LAUGHABLE. Well, it “would” be laughable if it wasn’t such a serious negative to our society.

    Penalizing performance and offering rewards for failure is the point and it’s EXACTLY the same thing with GPA as it is money.

    I’m not surprised that these morons don’t support the attack on THEIR HARD WORK. IDIOTS!

  • Dave Parrillo

    You should also poll how much each individual student is working to contribute to the cost of their own tuiition. I bet the students who are working regularly to pay for their tuition understand what’s at stake and are less willing to part with their gpa…..The students who are there on someone else’s “dime” will just continue with that mindset. Unless their parents are rich from hard work and have already instilled the value of smart hard work and it’s payoff.

  • Pingback: Berkeley Students Are So Conservative « Pursuit of Truthiness()

  • Pingback: Sexist Narratives, Moral Dumbfounding and Our Broken Narrative Faculty | Reviews In Depth()

  • Pech

    It a question of the nature of earning. 
    You earn GPA based on the exact same requirement as anyone else and the reward is depends on the work you put in the fill these requirement. The higher reward goes to those who work the harder and it would be fair to take that away from them.Now onto money, you cannot compare money to GPA because no matter how hard, how much and how well you work as a construction worker, you will never make as much as some who work in finance. And although you could say that the construction worker should have worked harder in high school, gone to college while working to pay his tuition and get better paying job, well :1. some people aren’t just born with the brains to get through college, even high school in some cases.2. every single person in america applied your recommendations and went to college. Who the f**k would be building your houses ?

    Some people are just born with an intellectual and/or financial advantage in life. They never had to work for that, they are born with it. It is only justice that, if these people use those gifts properly, they should get better paying jobs. Nobody can question that. But wouldn’t be fair if these people also accepted the fact the some other are just killing themselves in working low paying jobs and could get a little share of the luck they never had to start with ?

    Chase the lazies and the profiteers, not the generosity and justice of more and better redistribution !