No Such Thing As An Opinion!

August 9, 2011

Matt Damon: How do you define "incentive"?

I rarely write articles about celebrities.  In fact, I believe I've written only one.

This will be the second.

When it comes to celebrities publicly supporting or opposing political or social issues, I have mixed feelings. 

On the one hand, I think it's sad that its
their voice, not the voice of the real experts and researchers, being given media coverage.

There are way too many people who seem to feel it's fine to have their
own opinion about social science issues, instead of deferring to (or even becoming aware of) where the evidence lies (that said, I wouldn't have a problem with a celebrity making their voice heard if their level of knowledge was on par with an expert).

After all, as I say, there's
No Such Thing As An Opinion!

On the other hand, celebrities can bring attention to issues in a way that the real experts cannot.

Which brings me to Matt Damon.

brought attention to standardized testing and its effects on the education system.  For now, I'm not going to delve into whether or not I disagree with his views in that regard.

I simply happened to watch an interesting
video clip of him being a bit testy with a reporter, and I thought I would critique his logic.  Who knows, maybe I'll be able to add another name to my Logic's Liars section?  Here's text from the video.  And here's the video itself:

Ahh, Matt Damon,  Matt Damon.  Listen, if you are bringing attention to a good cause, I applaud you.

But if you are spreading misinformation (especially if done intentionally) I
don't applaud you.  Especially if the misinformation is spread in a manner that makes others (such as the reporter and cameraman) look bad.

1) Matt says:

"So you think job insecurity is what makes me work hard? I want to be an actor. That’s not an incentive. That’s the thing. See, you take this MBA-style thinking, right? It’s the problem with ed policy right now, this intrinsically paternalistic view of problems that are much more complex than that. It’s like saying a teacher is going to get lazy when they have tenure. A teacher wants to teach. I mean, why else would you take a shitty salary and really long hours and do that job unless you really love to do it?"

First of all, what do incentives have to do with a paternalistic system?  Perhaps there is a relation, but he certainly doesn't explain!

Secondly, Matt Damon disputes that an incentive (job insecurity due to lack of tenure) would tend to increase teachers' performance.  Isn't that bizarre?

When you add an incentive into the mixture, the other factors (salary, etc.) aren't directly relevant in evaluating the effect of the incentive

That's because when you add an incentive, there's been only one direct change.  Only one variable has changed:  An incentive has been added.

Since Matt Damon believes that adding the incentive of job insecurity would
not increase teachers' performance, he apparently believes that the incentive will either have no effect or will result in a reduction in teachers' job performance.

After all, if the incentive doesn't
increase performance, it must either reduce it or result in no change in performance!  Those are the only two alternatives!

How believable is the first alternative? You add an extra variable to the equation (an incentive) and there's no change in job performance.

Not believable.

How believable is the second alternative? You add an extra variable to the equation (an incentive) and there's a
reduction in job performance?

Not believable.  Bizarre!

Do you expect me to believe that once teachers lack tenure, once they are at a greater risk of losing their jobs, they
aren't going to work harder in order to keep their job?  Simply bizarre.

I mean, it's not like I even
need to present studies that show incentives have an effect.  How could they tend not to?

2) Next:

I mean, why else would you take a shitty salary and really long hours and do that job unless you really love to do it?"

"Shitty salaries?"

Matt, not everyone is lucky enough to have
your income (and I do believe that luck likely had a significant role in your becoming a movie star, regardless of the fact that I enjoy your acting).

And not all incomes that are much less than yours are shitty.  I just want to make that clear, in case you believe that to be the case.

Matt, do you consider
the median elementary school teacher salary of $50,500 ($24.30 an hour) to be "shitty"? (Even that may be a slight low ball figure, as it appears the figures may be 2008 figures).

Well, if you consider
that salary shitty, then how would you describe the average salary of all Americans?

Look at
these charts, which seem to cover a time frame (2007-2009) similar to the one referenced above.

The median hourly salary of full-time American civilian workers nationwide was $17.50.

So, teachers earn about 38.8% more than other American civilian workers.

How could someone earning
so much more than average be earning a shitty salary, Matt?  For that matter, how could any American earning more than average be considered to have a shitty income?

3) Next:

really long hours..."

Long hours?  Don't teachers have two months off during the summer?  Perhaps their actual workdays are longer than the average.  And I do think that teaching is probably more stressful than most other jobs.

But is it reasonable to believe that a profession that allows two months off during the year has "really long hours"?

The Huffington Post reports:

"The interview got a little tense from there. After Damon's comments, the cameraman broke the invisible wall and chimed in: 'Aren’t 10 percent of teachers bad, though? Ten percent of teachers are bad.' 

When Damon's mom, a Boston-area teacher, asked where the cameraman got his numbers, he responded, 'I don't know. Ten percent of people in any profession maybe should think of something else.

To which Damon struck back: 'Maybe you’re a shitty cameraman.'"

Matt, the question asked whether ten percent of teachers are bad.  The context of the discussion is about
incentives.  The context of the discussion is not about cameramen.


So what's the deal Matt?

Were you unable to follow the points being made?

Or were you perhaps trying to change the subject so you didn't have to admit that
not all teachers are good?

if you knew you were incorrect, why respond in a manner that makes others look bad?

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