Sunday, April 19, 2009

More on women...

A correspondent, M, criticizes me severely for praising Margaret Thatcher in a recent posting, where I quoted her as saying that she always insisted on running the economy as she would run the household as a housewife (my post of February 22, 2009).

M thinks that she started and promoted the era of corporate greed, not only in Britain but around the world. It is, as we all know, this corporate greed that has brought us to where we are.

M is of course quite right, and I agree with him. I believe that her policies did start the era of corporate greed and turned Britain into a less caring, humane and compassionate society than it used to be.

It also encouraged policy-makers in other countries to pursue these same policies and make the world as a whole a less caring place.

I was really trying to say that men would not think and talk like that. But M is right. After quoting her, I should have added, “However, she did not take her own advice seriously enough to incorporate it into long term economic policies”.

So, my apologies to M.

For me, it still remains that there are far too few women in leading financial and economic positions. It would only be right to have more. I am hopeful that they will follow a more careful economic policy, given their less reckless attitude. This more circumspect attitude may in the end be traceable to a difference in the way the feminine brain functions.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The "Gas Tank" Theory of Love

Some time ago (April 28, 2008), I wrote a piece about the objectivity of subjective experiences. I now recall that, many years ago, Martin Bell – then a correspondent for the BBC in the United States – reported on what he called Lee Marvin’s “Gas Tank” Theory of Love.

A lady he had been living with had brought a court case against him, demanding half of his earnings for the period they had been living together. But how much did he love her? Lee Marvin replied that if measuring love was like a fuel gauge, his feelings for her never got above “half a tank”.

Now this seemed funny and improbable at the time. But in fact measuring a full brain “gas tank of love” is not quite so improbable after all.

Romantic love correlates with activity in a specific set of areas. Brain activity that correlates with subjective mental states such as hate, or experience of beauty, or expectation of reward, seems to be proportional to the intensity of the declared subjective mental state, at least in some brain areas.

For example, activity in the putamen, a subcortical brain station, is propotional to the declared intensity of hate experienced by the subject.

Now suppose that we are able to calculate the exact number of cells in the putamen and determine the ones whose responses correlate with the experience of hate and suppose further that we have a precise figure for their electrical discharge rates per second. If we had this information, we should be able to tell whether, at any given moment, the hate is of the “full gas tank” or “half gas tank” variety. And so too with love.

This is of course taking a very simple approach. In practice, we would also need to have the same information for the other areas whose activity correlates with the experience of hate (or of love). And we would also have to calculate the responses of areas whose activity merely correlates with the experience of love or hate, without being related proportionately to the intensity of the experience.

This is all of course a long way off – some will wish ardently that is forever off. But it is worth recording that Lee Marvin was not being far from biology when he was trying to give a measure to the intensity of love that he felt. The gas tank analogy was, I believe, not a bad one after all.

The female brain and economics

In my previous post (February 22nd, 2009), I lamented the fact that there are not more women in top economic posts. I ventured the opinion that, if there are indeed differences between the male and the female brain (and who can deny that, at some level, there must be), this may work to the advantage of women – and the advantage of society – where it comes to economic matters. Had women been in charge of our financial and economic affairs, we might not be in quite the mess we are in today, so I wrote.

In this context, I was interested to read a report in The Financial Times dated March 2nd and entitled “Why women managers shine in a downturn”. The article is by Michel Ferrary, a professor of business management at Ceram Business School in France. He reports that …”the more women there were in a company’s management, the less the share price fell in 2008. A significant coefficient of correlation links the two variables”.

The only large company whose share prices rose in 2008 was the luxury goods company Hermès. Its share price rose by 16.8 % and 55 percent of its management are women. And, to a lesser extent, the story is repeated with other companies with highly feminised managements.

By contrast, companies with mainly highly masculinised management saw their share prices fall dramatically. Alcatel-Lucent, which only has 8.6 % female managers – presumably the rest are males – saw a 69.3% decrease in share prices – and the story is repeated across other companies.

Among French banks, contrast BNP Paribas with 38.7% female managers and whose share price fell 39 % in 2008, with Credit Agricole, which has only 16% female managers and whose share price decreased by 62.2%.

The article traces this to the fact that women “tend to be more risk-aversive and to focus more on a long term perspective”

One would, of course, like to see statistics for other countries besides France before reaching firm conclusions. But this interesting study supports my view that the female brain may confer distinctive economic advantages, to the benefit of all, and that we should, therefore, pursue seriously having equal numbers of women in topic economic and financial posts. If we persist in having unequal numbers, then we should advantage the women and have a smaller percentage of men.