The Economic Man was utterly out of gift ideas for his girlfriend, the Economic Woman, for Valentine’s Day.
Last week, New Jersey became just the third state to allow online gambling, after Nevada and Delaware opened up the untapped market earlier this year. Those who are physically in New Jersey can now play all the games offered in Atlantic City without getting off the couch. Within a week, 37,277 signed up for gambling websites, putting HeathCare.Gov to shame.
In a country that worships individual freedom and the glamour of Las Vegas, the legal hurdle for online gambling seems easy to cross. However, online gambling has been a murky legal area since its conception in the late nineties. In 2006, after years of failed attempts to regulate online gambling, four Republican senators sneaked the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act as an amendment into a totally unrelated law on maritime security, and got it passed on the last day of Congress without a debate. Quietly and swiftly, Congress made this blossoming industry illegal.
When I read Ruth Starkman’s New York Times op-ed “Confessions of an Application Reader” about her experience as an admissions reader, a scene from the sports movie “Moneyball” came to mind. In the movie, when the newly-hired Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane walked into a free-agency meeting, the Athletics front office staff was evaluating baseball prospects on factors such as “you can hear his [hit] all over the ballpark,” and defended the same loud-hitting player’s poor batting average by the gut feeling that “if you give him four hundred bats, he could be better.” Billy Beane rejected this old norm in baseball scouting, and instead used quantitativemodels to scout and sign undervalued prospects. Billy Beane’s effort allowed the Athletics to build a team that rivaled the Yankees, while spending one third of what the Yankees spent on players.
Baseball scouting has come a long way since Billy Beane’s innovation. Yet, surprisingly, holistic assessment and gut feelings still prevail in college admission. Despite the objective criteria that Starkman was instructed to follow, the admissions process was confusingly subjective. In Starkman’s training sessions, she was told to look for the “bigger picture” of a candidate’s life and that candidates who “help build the class” were more valuable. At times, these criteria seemed purposefully vague to encourage subtle racial discrimination and preference for wealthier students. When she asked why an academically talented Asian student was ranked lowly, her colleague replied: “Oh, you’ll get a lot of them.” The application of such vague criteria was dictated by the discretion of experienced readers. In the “norming sessions,” experienced admissions readers guided the new readers to conform their decisions to a predetermined score. Rather than evaluating a student’s merits with a clearly defined metric, readers were conditioned to rank students based on how they thought other readers, especially more senior ones, would rank them.
Two summers ago, I landed in Lyons, France with six euros in my wallet, only enough for a meal at the local McDonald’s. I was afraid that I could not name anything on the menu besides “royale with cheese,” but instead of being greeted by a French-speaking cashier, I stood in front of a kiosk that displayed food items in photos and multiple languages. It was effortless to order what I wanted despite the language barrier, and I got my food almost immediately after paying at the same kiosk.
Last August, American fast food workers held strikes in more than 60 cities, demanding a $15/hour “living wage,” which is more than double the $7.25 federal minimum wage. The protest pits fast food workers against big corporations like McDonald’s. Having worked a minimum wage job at McDonald’s before college, I’m on the side of the workers, but I’m afraid I have to put my money on the big corporations. The fight, after all, might no longer be a zero-sum game between corporations and workers. It may be a fight between workers and machines that will ultimately replace them.