Gilles Saint-Paul: The Yellow Vests, French Politics, and Hypergamy — #31
Steve Hsu: Welcome to Manifold. Today, my guest is Gilles Saint-Paul, Professeur à l'Ecole Normale Supérieure. After receiving engineering degrees from Ecole Polytechnique in 1985 and the Ecole des Ponts et Chaussées in 1987, St. Paul graduated with a master's degree in applied Mathematics from Paris Delphine University. He then earned his PhD in economics in 1990 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
I'm very happy to have you on the show.
Gilles Saint-Paul: Thank you. Yes, very glad to be here.
Steve Hsu: Great. Now, I came across your 2008 paper on mating and hypergamy, which I found very impressive and it's something that I wanted to discuss, in this interview. We'll get to that, in the second half. That led me to your blog, which I also found very fascinating. I found your essays very insightful, and also I've always been curious about the French grande école system. And so I thought I would ask you also about some aspects of that, the education system in France. Does that sound like a reasonable set of topics?
Gilles Saint-Paul: Of course.
Steve Hsu: Great. So let's start with your childhood and educational career. Maybe just tell us a little bit about where you grew up and what it was like.
Gilles Saint-Paul: Yeah, well, I'm from a sort of, regular family, you know, regular middle class family, from the provinces, not Paris. My father, my grandfather was a tiny textile manufacturer. very tiny actually. He died with zero wealth and didn't even own his car, but he was very respected in his village.
My maternal grandfather was from, military dynasty. Artillery officers, actually. So they were more from the upper middle class, if you want. And they were from the south of France, near Marai basically. So, my father and his brothers and sisters sort of went up the social ladder through the education system. And, my father married my mother when they were, when he was doing his military service in UHS Province, which is, basically an air base, you know, air force base, a town in the near Marce. And this is where my mother works. And then, you know, that it's very standard middle class things. My father was working in a, in a computer, in a steel company, steel plant, then a computer company, and then he moved to an American company, the Reader's Digest, basically. And my mother is an Italian teacher in high school. So, you know, not a particularly interesting background to put it, that, to put it that way.
People who survive, well thanks to the educational system, but are not particularly connected. And so basically, what else can I say? You know, I, I, I was doing very well at school at that time in science. I was very good at math and physics. And when I graduated from high school, I didn't know what to do. So I did what was the obvious thing in France, which is, prepare for, for those grande école and, and then I went to Polytechnic, and at the end of Polytechnic I didn't know what to do, actually considered opening a restaurant. But instead, you know, I went to, semi stand, path, which is that, I, I actually specialized in the last class I took that was interesting to me as an undergrad.
Gilles Saint-Paul: And so I started physics in, in, in economics because I thought it was very interesting to apply mathematics to human phenomena. basically. And then I met a guy called Ty Hall, and he told me, go to it. So I went to MIT, you know, and then at the end of my PhD I planned to do a more bureaucratic career than I finally did.
So, I met another guy, called [unclear], who told me, you know, come to this research center in Paris and be an academic. and so this is what I did basically.
At the end of the day, I made very few autonomous decisions in my life. In some sense. Most of the time I did what I was supposed to do or told to do.
It may sound quite unAmerican, but it's not uncommon in France, and I suspect in Asia it's even more common.
Steve Hsu: Yes. Could you comment a little bit on how you found MIT and the American system of education versus what you had experienced in France?
Gilles Saint-Paul: I found it very similar. Mythology. I came from this preparatory school to Polytechnic and Polytechnic, and this is something where you don't really, well, it has, it's a very good education, but you don't really grow up in some sense. You work, you have exams, you have problem sets. And meanwhile, the American undergrads, they enjoy themselves. But if they go to graduate school, they no longer enjoy themselves.
They have problem sets and assignments, again, and, and so I found the atmosphere and methods of education quite similar to France. Now there are lots of American guys, not lots, but some American PhD students who were a bit scared about that, because it was new to them. But to me it was not new at all. I was almost disappointed to some extent, not by the contents of course, but the system looked so similar.
Steve Hsu: Now one of the places where there's a big difference between the American system and the French system is I believe you guys for two years after you finish high school, you, you get your bacc. You prepare, you, you engage in some things called the prep us in order to be admitted to these grande école.
Is that correct?
Gilles Saint-Paul: So basically this grande ècole, they are based on, the principle of Republican equality, which means that no favoritism, no nepotism, no donors, you know, we take the best people according to objective academic criteria. And, for this, everybody has to take a contest, which has to be calibrated to be you. Hard enough or discriminating enough so that there's no ambiguity about who is better than whom.
So that is the principle historically, and we borrowed that system from the Chinese in the 18th century when the Jesuit missionaries went to, China, and they talked about that to, you know, philosophers of the enlightenment who said, you know, look, that's a great, thing to do in a ne society. So in a sense France borrowed this system of contest from the Chinese, basically. But then without time, in some sense, accessing these positions through those contests proved, proved, an interesting thing to do.
And, for that reason, those preppers as they are called arose gradually over time because people spent more effort in order to win the contest, in order to succeed in the contest. So on the one hand, such contests are indeed, you know, very equitable, no favoritism. On the other hand, they create some artificial scarcity and, this means that, you know, people are competing with each other, and it is very hard to get into those schools.
And furthermore, these things are getting worse. I mean, these things got worse in recent years for two reasons. One is that the labor market deteriorated starting in the mid seventies, meaning that, you know, you are willing to work harder to secure your economic position in society. And the other thing is that the regular university, which is still training most of the students, was gradually degraded over time because following May 1968, more and more people could enter universities without being selected.
So a lot of the success of Gonzales, in my view, comes from the fact that it's becoming less and less interesting to go to university, in particular, the baccalauréat. But you know about the baccalauréat historically is,nation one wide exam, which is, an entry ticket to universities. So you cannot go to the university unless you have the baccalauréat.
And so, because of, you know, socialist demons, we moved from a situation where 20% of a cohort had the baccalauréat to a situation where 80% of the cohort had the baccalauréat. So the number of people allowed to go to university was multiplied by four. And, and this made it increasingly attractive to go to the grand ècole instead because going to university was not giving a very interesting signal about your quality as a worker to prospective employers.
Steve Hsu: What fraction of students attend a grand ècole?
Gilles Saint-Paul: This, I don't know, it's not that small because among the grande ècole, you have many small ècole. So I would say, total, because we have business grand ècole, we have, and we have engineering. So total, it's not negligible, maybe 10% total.
Steve Hsu: I see. Yeah,
by the, among the so-called. Some of them are, you know, quite specialized. It's not that difficult to get in and you don't get that great job when you go out. There's a study that I did with a colleague where we looked at the number of Nobel Fields and touring awards won by the alumni of different undergraduate institutions. and the highest density is among the graduates of Ècole Normale. And, number two in the world is Caltech. Number three is probably Harvard, and then Polytechnique is probably somewhere in the top 10, close to Cambridge and Oxford.
Gilles Saint-Paul: Yes.
Steve Hsu: I don't know if you had ever heard those statistics. I, I, I think there was very little interest in our results from American University presidents, but a guy called Mark Mèzard, who's a theoretical physicist, and
Gilles Saint-Paul: I know you were the director of Ècole Normale Supèrieure.
Steve Hsu: Yeah, he found our results very interesting. But, I think Americans didn't care so much, but I was very impressed by the high density at ENS.
Gilles Saint-Paul: Yeah. It's all the more impressive that it's a much smaller institution than Harvard or Oxford or Cambridge. In science they take some 50 students per year. So it's really, you know, the creme de la creme, if you want.At the same time it's n it's not so surprising they're doing so well because all the top students are self-select to go there.
You know, nobody who prefers to go to Polytechnic, nobody would, would, give up going there. I guess in the US you have people, students who are very strong, but they prefer to go to Stanford and to Harvard or, you know, something like that. So you have more similar institutions. In France, there is a pretty rigid hierarchy.
Do you teach these students at ENS?
Gilles Saint-Paul: I do, yes. They are not monstrous. Most of them teach in a specific section, which is, which they created in the 1980s, I believe, which is called social science. So these are neither historically they had, you know, science nerds and, humanities nerds, you know, like people who were devoting their lives to 13th century poetry, you know. People like that. Or people who were super strong at solving tough mathematical problems. They, but they could not tie their shoes, you know.
But, this social science category is much more balanced. They are more like, you know, they are, they are not stellar in any specific field, but they are good in every field. So it's, it's a pretty different kind of people, if you want. Many of them go into business or administration. Some of them become very good economists, actually terribly fluent through this and a number of other people. But they do not have a typical profile of the eco normal student historically, who is super strong in a very limited field, in a very narrowly defined thing.
Gilles Saint-Paul: And so, you know, there's nothing special about teaching there, to be honest. They are like, you know, I dunno, advanced students from Princeton or something like that.
Steve Hsu: Got it. Now, in this essay that I read, which is titled on the Yellow Vest Insurrection and dated December 2018, by the way, I'm, I'm curious, do you also write a blog in French or you're deliberately, your, your, your blog is in English?
It's in English. Then why do I write so much in English about France? You might say, you might ask, maybe because I want, I, I want to take off some heat, I guess.
Steve Hsu: I see. Well, I'm very happy you write in English.
Gilles Saint-Paul: 1 million people read my blog because. it might create some trouble for me, so,
Steve Hsu: Okay. So if it were in French, you would you It would, there would be more blowback.
Yeah, exactly. Like there could be, at least, you know, that's my perception. Good. Yeah, you're
Also I think I do an interesting, well useful job, sort of informing the rest of the world of, you know, those things. Yeah, I was quite glad to find your blog. Let me read the first few sentences from this blog post and then maybe you can elaborate. You write, the current insurrection is the result of a number of ideological, political and economic forces, which gradually made life unlivable for the French lower middle class. How did we get here? It all started with a long cultural battle waged by the left in order to conquer and maintain hegemony. And when I read that, I was hooked. So, please elaborate.
France is a sort of
Gilles Saint-Paul: catch-all welfare state where everybody has an entitlement to resources produced by others. Okay. That's one way to view it. So there is in fact a pecking order, which is not official. Okay? But basically the people who are the bottom of that pecking order, they are fooled, okay? They are told that they are going to get what they are promised, but it's not actually true. And this is what the yellow, what the yellow vest realized. They realized that they have been fooled basically. So they have been told, look, you are going to have a great, you know, the best health system in the world. And then someday the maternity closes or the intensive care unit closes, and then they are told it's not profitable. This is why we close these things. You know, we are managers. But then the day after they turn on the TV, and they, they are told about all these wonderful, cultural festivals that take place in the South of France that are not profitable anymore than the maternity that was closed. Of course, these festivals were even less profitable than maternity.
So then they scratch their head and they, and they ask themselves, you know, what's going on? Why is it that my maternity is less important than the futile distractions of the bourgeoisie people who attend those festivals? Yes. And the answer to that question is that they are the bottom of the pecking order.
These festivals, the cultural system, the cultural complex are important in maintaining the ideology of the middle class that supports the government. So this is why it's higher in the pecking order than the maternity of the yellow vest.
So basically, you know, what made this insurrection dangerous to the power is that these people were not fighting to improve their situation within the system. They were actually fighting the system. Very different. And they were fighting the system because they realized that the system was based upon them being at the bottom.
So this is the way it works. Now, why, why, why the left? The theory that I'm pushing here is that, during the high growth of the post-war era, the aria, as they call it, was, you know, experiencing very substantial improvement in living standards. And so these people were starting to be homeowners, going on vacations and, and so forth.
And the left realized that they would gradually lose the support of this proletariat. I, I, I think to some extent the same thing took place in the United States, but instead of, having a strategy of, you know, constructing your account, your access to power based on vertical conflicts, they changed their strategy and they tried to,use horizontal conflict.
Basically men versus women and natives versus immigrants and so on and so forth. So there was a shift there. And this shift, implied that the former proletariat was no longer, social category that was favored by the left. And that is the reason why they ended up at the bottom of the pecking order.
Steve Hsu: So you, you write that in the thirties, forties and fifties, the left still valorized the proletariat.
Gilles Saint-Paul: Yes.
Steve Hsu: Perhaps something happened around 68 with the student protests? How did it actually occur that they gave up on...
Gilles Saint-Paul: What happened before 68 is that the proletariat sort of became less of a proletariat because of economic growth basically. So it was increasingly difficult for the left to convince these people that they were oppressed and that they should, you know, participate in social unrest when, you know, their wages grew 5% per year and they were buying houses in the suburbs of Paris.
You know, it was not, it was no longer incredible to say those things. Now the student resists, that's a very specific, very specific phenomenon. But basically, it's the lines of conflicts that, that, that, that changed around that time. The political factions that I called the left redefined those lines of conflicts in order to have a chance to, to keep power. And they were relatively successful, but it took time, basically.
It started because the male students could not enter the girls' dormitories. So, you know, they wanted it, it was a sort of, you know, adolescent movement. They wanted to relax, constraint, social constraints on their behavior.
Steve Hsu: I'm sorry, you're saying that that was the cause of the 68 student protests?
Gilles Saint-Paul: Yes, it was the immediate cause of 1968.
Steve Hsu: I see.
Gilles Saint-Paul: and then it went outta control and it was crazy. You know, these people were demonstrating with pictures of the chairman, a tool, saying what we want, no constraints. We want to enjoy life without constraints. I, I don't think ma say to me is the best incarnation of that kind of philosophy.
So it was just something crazy, in terms of ideology. But it's, sort of, overturn the preceding social order.
Steve Hsu: Now in the US I would say the left. It seems to me the left still sided with the labor unions well into the seventies and perhaps even the eighties. And did that not happen in France?
Gilles Saint-Paul: They, it's just that the labor unions do not repre, well, first of all, the unionization rate has fallen tremendously. And that's because the labor unions do not represent people like the [unclear]. So the labor unions are almost a branch of the government, if you want. They are the branch of the government, which is, taking care of, communicating with, those workers who are relatively well treated by the system like public sector workers, big companies, workers, people like that.
These are not [unclear].
Steve Hsu: So the [unclear] are working poor. Is that, is that the right way to characterize them?
Gilles Saint-Paul: Yes. Working small entrepreneurs, you know. People who pay a lot of the taxes that fund society, yes, people like people who bear the burden of risk. And, you know, they are said to be the losers of globalization if you want. But, that's an interesting debate because the so-called winner of globalization, in France, like the cultural industry, they are not winners of globalization. they go on being protected by, against globalization.
Okay? So you have this government, they say to textile workers, look, you know, you have to compete, in the global arena. And, it means that given that there are those low cost countries, we need to reduce employment in your sector by 70%, something like that. At the same time, they are going to say, look, you know, culture is very important, for democracy, blah, blah, blah.
So we continue to subsidize culture.
If nobody was protected, this, the non yellow vest, people would, many of them would find themselves losers from global globalization. And conversely, many of the yellow vest people, they would pay their gasoline at, you know, world market prices instead of paying 150% tax on this.
So it's not clear at all that these people are losers from globalization. They are losers from government policy, which is a different thing.
Steve Hsu: Is this insurrection just on pause now, waiting for another spark to ignite it?
Gilles Saint-Paul: Many people think so, but the repression was pretty brutal. By, you know, of course it was not that brutal by historical standards. There were no shootings, but still, lots of people were mutilated. They lost when I, because the police were instructed to shoot these teargas grenades, directly to the faces of the people.
So there was a sort of unprecedented repression. And that's because it was a new kind of protest. And an important thing they asked was referendum direct democracy.
Steve Hsu: Is your interpretation of these events allowed in the mainstream media in France? Or, or would it be considered very unseemly for a professor to say these things?
Gilles Saint-Paul: It's allowed, but it, it's allowed, but it's better if you say it in a not so visible outlet. And if you are yourself not so close to the center of power. That's one way to put it. Okay.
Steve Hsu: Do you feel that your family background allows you to understand better the world of these
Gilles Saint-Paul: I'm not sure. to some extent. But on the other hand, you know, you have lots of people, if we take Macron, okay. President of France his family background is not from the top, Parisian, Brazil, nor from people who are all civil servants or all academics. every generation. not at all.
So family background only plays a minor role. I, I don't have a good explanation to give you, but it depends on how you identify yourself. Okay. Well, one of the guys who went to Polytechnic, with me, was from a very, very, peasant background, and then he went to Tonna, you know, which is the top school for administration.
And he was corrupted by these people who were very bourgeois. And as a result of that, he was extremely grateful to this cast that had corrupted him. And he turned out to be very loyal, and he did very well. So, I don't think it is the question of, of family background except to the, to the extent that I don't systematically identify myself with the, with the government.
Unlike most French economics academic economists or most French academics,
Steve Hsu: Are there still old leftists or communists who sympathize with these workers? These, these working poor?
Gilles Saint-Paul: Not really. The Communist Party as such is almost nonexistent now. It's 2% of the vote. I mean, not even that. They didn't have a candidate in the last presidential election. What happened is that there is this big, leftist party called La France Insoumise, which is pretty leftwing, and they tried to overtake the yellow vests movement. And I think that was a way to neutralize it. You know, it was a way to transform the movement into a bunch of people who were asking for subsidies in order to stay quiet. Just like everybody else.
So basically this party participated in the movement so that it would say, look, you know, give us money instead of, you know, give us true democracy with a direct referendum. Because at the end of the day, the feeling of those people is that you have these guys from the elite, they take the plane to go to the Cannes Festival, which is subsidized by the Cannes cinema festival, which is subsidized. And then they are lecturing us about global warming. And they, and we pay a huge tax on gasoline, which is making us substantially poorer and making our daily life miserable.
And so if you start thinking about these things, you ask yourself, why is that taking place? And of course, the only answer is that there is no real democracy in France because the people who have a miserable life, because of the gasoline crisis, are much more numerous than those who take the plane to go to the Cannes Festival.
And so you end up concluding that there is no real democracy because the people who call themselves the representatives of the people do not represent the people. They represent whatever the lobbies or they obey orders, whatever. And so inevitably, you reach the conclusion that the solution to this situation is to have direct democracy, which of course is a very dangerous idea for the ruling class.
And that's why they sent these left-wing people from La France Insoumise, the political party in order to dilute the movement and kill its basic, reification, which was getting direct democracy.
Let me quote from something you wrote. You say, "The yellow vest movement is best understood as a hybrid between the US Tea Party movement and Italy's Cinque Stelle. Its position is largely incoherent, reflecting the diversity of its members' motivation to join, but it has two original features compared to what are used in French agitation tradition.
Steve Hsu: First, the yellow vests want less taxes in the form of lower gasoline taxes, but also lower taxes on small businesses. And second, they want more democracy, in particular in the form of popular initiative, referendums."
Do you have any prediction for how political life in France is going to evolve?
Gilles Saint-Paul: It's very hard to predict. What I can predict is that it cannot evolve from within. Now we are in a situation where there are only two political parties, if you want. The insiders of the system are those who think that they are better off as long as the system remains as it is, and those who think that the system has to be dismantled.
So I think there is very little scope for reform, basically. The reason why Macron won is that people from the center right and center left were scared that they would lose power because of the so-called populist or the so-called extremes, and therefore they created a sort of single party system or grand coalition if you want.
So now we are essentially another single party system. Either you support the balcony, or you are a populist, a fascist, an extremist, whatever. This is the present situation. And, given that the single party controls the media, the agenda and so forth, it's very difficult for it to lose power through an election.
And, what's going on is that more and more people are not participating in the electoral process. So basically the, the party, the court, the mainstream, the, the party in power, accounts for at most 25% of the voters, anywhere between 12% of the voters and 25% of the voters. And basically it survives well, because it's good at dividing the remaining 75 or 80% because it controls the narrative.
Steve Hsu: Yeah, I didn't realize that the ratio was so stark.
Gilles Saint-Paul: So if it changes its rates, it'll be by some brutal phenomenon. But, it'll not be because the ruling parties will implement this or that policy.
Steve Hsu: I, I would say the, the US analog is that, according to a US populist, they would say the Republican Party pretends to have some of their interests at heart. But in fact, there's a kind of uni party, which involves the Democrats and then the actual Republicans that are in Washington. And so there's a broad range of American opinion that's just not reflected in Washington.
Gilles Saint-Paul: Right. This is quite related to the French situation, except that we no longer have a Republican party. We have a party called Republican and accommodates 4% of the election. . So it's as if, you know, I don't know, people like Mi Romney had 4% of the vote and we had a socialist candidate from the, another party of Miran and Jasper.
And, the candidate, the socialist candidate, made 1.6% of the vote. Okay? So the sort of traditional mainstream parties no longer exist. The only thing that remains is Macron. And the reason is that people gather around Macron because they are scared. So they, they, you know, they might have voted socialist, but they thought, look, you know, we run the risk of having no mainstream candidate in the second round. So I vote safe in the first round by voting Macron.
So all the other traditional mainstream parties that disappeared except this France sum, this party, and of course Lupan. But Lupan is not a traditional mainstream party, and France Sum is considered as a populist too, you know, left-Wing populist, even though I think they are really there to support the system. They pretend not to, but they do support the system.
They had an opportunity to destabilize the government and parliament by voting for some proposition of the Ralo National, which is, and they didn't do so.
Steve Hsu: And, and I think you said Melan Jones is actually just a kind of controlled opposition, is that right? He, he's not really.
Gilles Saint-Paul: Yeah.
Steve Hsu: see.
Gilles Saint-Paul: Everybody's a controlled opposition. Luan is a sort of controlled opposition, but Luan is playing the role of the villain, basically. Okay. So if the villain were to win the election, it would be a disaster, even though the villain is just playing a role. But, you know, it's not the script of the play, basically.
On the other hand, Mélenchon is there to control the people who are socially degraded and might become radicalized. Okay. You know, like, like people who would naturally become yellow vests, tend to become extreme left-wing. . And so he is selling to them. Some, you know, I don't know, opium of extreme leftwing.
But at the end of the day when there are important stakes, he's always rallying with the government. So, for example, with this current pension reform, he said no, the program of Macron was quite clear that he would increase the retirement age to 64. Okay. And Le Pen in our program said, no, I will not do that.
Gilles Saint-Paul: Okay. And so what did Mélenchon do? He said, you know, it's a scandal to increase the retirement age to 64. Okay. and at the same time he said, I will never side with Le Pen in my protest against the pension reform. Because Le Pen is a fascist. So, I oppose this reform and at the same time I support it because if I did not support it, I would side with those fascists. That's the way it works.
And so at the end of the day, it is there to convince part of the electorate to accept their fate, because if they don't, they are,they are buttressing the cause of fascism. So that's the narrative that this so-called left-wing party is pushing and it works very well.
Steve Hsu: Is there a tension between belief in rational economic actors and the idea that these political parties, the system, can fool average people, divide them and keep them from pursuing their own interests?
Gilles Saint-Paul: I guess you are right. There are now many people who are not, are not fooled, but they are demoralized, right? It's a bit complicated because in economic voting, in theory, your vote does not matter because you are so tiny, right? So at the end of the day, maybe it's not that irrational to vote according to your emotions,because you don't control policy.
Steve Hsu: Yeah, you, you'll get some emotional utility or satisfaction, but maybe not real world utility.
Gilles Saint-Paul: Exactly. So you watch yourself in the mirror and you said, you know, I, I fought fascism.
Steve Hsu: Right.
Gilles Saint-Paul: But the people who vote Macron don't think they fought fascism. They think, look, you know, chaos is around the corner. If my pension can be paid for five years more, or if my savings plan can be safe for five years more, thanks to Macron, that's good enough for me and I, and I vote for Macron. That's the reason.
So Macron is the party of fear, essentially. That's the way it works and it works well. And, and that is rational. I mean, these people are somewhat rational. They could say, look, you know, in 1789, people changed as people destroyed the system and there were 25 years of chaos and wars and so forth.
So, you know, I'm not going to go through all this trouble if it only benefits my grand grandchildren. That's a rational calculation. Especially if you are old, right?
You are 80, you are not going to sign up for a revolution that will deliver its benefits when you are 90.
Steve Hsu: It, it sounds like you're saying this equilibrium can persist for some time.
Gilles Saint-Paul: Yeah, it can persist for a very long time. It can persist forever. It may not, but it's hard to predict what's, what's, what's going to happen.
Steve Hsu: Okay. Let's switch gears. well leaving, leaving the state of France on a slightly pessimistic note. Let's switch gears and talk about your paper if that's okay.
Gilles Saint-Paul: Of course.
Steve Hsu: So, I understand you wrote this paper a long time ago, 2008, but hopefully we can still discuss it a little bit. The title is "Genes, Legitimacy, and Hypergamy: Another Look at the Economics of Marriage."
And it struck me as being very much more realistic than any other economic models of marriage that I had seen. For example, like the, these early Becker models seem, you know, they, they make a point, but they seem just incredibly simplistic. Whereas you account for all kinds of things, including, the quality of genes passed on from the parents to the children. Then, the amount of utility a parent derives from the human capital that accumulates in their children, all kinds of things.
So I don't know if you feel comfortable just trying to give us a short summary of it, to the listener. Would that be okay?
Gilles Saint-Paul: I will try to do my best because it's not necessarily an easy task. Okay. so basically, you know, in, in sociology and in a lot of economics. As I said, they consider a lot of gender differences as social constructs. There is a lot of work on why women earn less than men, for example. Okay, well, it's less and less true, by the way, but you know, historically people are looking at that and basically there are people saying that is because of discrimination. And then there are, there are people saying, look, you know, no, it's because they have less human capital, but they have less human capital because of low expectations imposed upon them by society. Okay?
And then you have people like, like Becker were saying, look, you know, it's the sexual division of labor. Women specialize in domestic work that was, you know, decades ago. men specialize in market work. And then of course, with time this is going to go away because there are machines that can do the homework instead. And, because pro productivity growth makes market work more and more attractive for women, and once they switch to market work, the gender wage gap will disappear because they're going to acquire as much human capital as men, basically.
So, this is the standard narrative, which is not totally wrong if we look at what happened in the last decade. When I, when I wrote that paper I came from a, from a different perspective, as I told you which is that,sex matters a lot. And so if you are in my model, there are no income differences between men and women, basically. Okay? They have the same distribution of human capital, and so there is no economic asymmetry between men and women. The only asymmetry is biological. So this is, if you, the starting point of my paper, I want to know how much economic asymmetries I can get in marriage markets, starting from a single biological fact, which is that women have scarce [unclear], whereas men have abundant [unclear].
Okay? And so in my whole analysis. not for the sake of realism, but for the sake of analytical clarity. There is no sexual division of labor. Women make the same money as men. Okay? That's not the issue there. The issue is who do you marry? What does the mileage market look like? And so from there, I bring in a sort of an assumption coming from the reality of nature, which is observed in all animals, which is that, it's possible for the most attractive mate to mate with, many women, okay?
Whereas it's not possible for the most attractive women to mate with as many men, they can have maybe 20 children, but not more. Okay. In the Moghul Empire, some Moghul emperors had had harems with 80,000 wives. Okay? So if you have 80,000 wives, it means that you have 80,000 guys out there who don't have a wife at all.
Right? So basically, I, I build a lot on, you know, lots of discussions, to be totally honest, that I read in the, you know, the, the men's rights advocates, the sphere, basically, that was a source of inspiration. And, and basically the, the idea out there is that you have, you have men,that I call Alpha male in my, in my paper, that are the most attractive ones. And, a woman who meets with those guys gets the best genes for her kids. Okay? But, in such a situation like the, the Moghul Emperor, okay, he meets with 18,000 women. His wealth is divided by 18,000, between all of those, all of the, all of those girls. So from the point of view of a woman, if you mate with an alpha man, you get good for your kids, but you get very little investment in resources from the father in favor of your kids.
Okay? So there is a trade off out there. is she going to make out with the alpha male and. raise her kid on her own, or is she going to mate with a man who is less attractive genetically, but is willing to invest in the child's human capital.
And the guy is going to be willing to invest in the child's human capital if he gets something in exchange. And this something in exchange is legitimacy. That is to say an insurance, that the kid is really his. Okay. So by assumption in my paper, there is no, you know, fatherhood as a social construct, you care if you are a man, you care about your biological kids, you don't care about kids that would not be your biological kids. That's one assumption. Otherwise, there is no problem.
And so, so basically, that's,the bulk of what's going on in my paper, but women face a trade off between making with an alpha male versus I'm having good genes, but poor economic investment in our children versus mating with a better male and having not so good genes, but more investment in the, in the children because the beta male would only mate with one woman invest everything in, in his skills.
So that's the bottom line. And then one of the central results is this hypergamy result, which is that the beta men need to compensate the beta women in a, in a marriage, okay? And the beta woman needs to be compensated for the opportunity cost of mating with a beta man instead of an alpha man.
And so, because of this compensation that must take place in economic equilibrium, a marriage with a rich man and a poor woman is more likely to happen than a marriage between a rich woman and a poor man. Okay? So this is, this is the hyper, this is the hypergamy result. Because if I'm a rich woman, then I can mate with an alpha male, and I have enough money to invest a lot of human capital in my kids. Okay? So it's not a problem. It's not a problem for me. So you identify two types of equilibria that can occur, one of which you call the Victorian type in which individuals marry someone more or less of the same rank in the distribution of.
It's called assortative mating.
Steve Hsu: Yes. And the other one, which you call the Sex And The City type equilibrium, women marry men who are better ranked than themselves.
Gilles Saint-Paul: Yes. This is in reference to this show, which is, which may be a bit outdated, but was popular at some point where you have very highly successful women living in New York City, and basically with one exception they don't mate. One of them tries to mate with a sort of character who is supposed to be extremely rich and it's this guy or nothing, right?
So, the India Equilibrium depicted in this TV series, they don't actually mate, okay, and this is why I called my, this kind of outcome six and six two, I think a sort of entertaining vocabulary.
So basically you are right, there are these two possibilities. You are, you are totally right and basically, which one prevails depends on the distribution of income. So if the distribution, well, well, one result, which is not actually, you know, obvious, I mean, you have to prove it. it's not straightforward, is that when there is more inequality, the sex and the city equilibrium is more likely to prevail. Okay?
And the explanation boils down to actually a differential equation. So it's not that easy to interpret. But the bottom line is that when there is a lot of inequality, the wealthy, beta males, okay, they are beta, but they are wealthy and they worked hard and built a company, et cetera. The wealthy beta males become more attractive for the low skilled women because there is more inequality. So rich people become more attractive as mates compared to poor people. This is what it means to have more inequality. And so the poorer women are going to, you know, compete harder with richer women in order to mate with richer, beta men. Okay? And this competition, if there is enough inequality between people, is going to destroy the Victorian equilibrium because this competition reduces the share of the pie that the most skilled women get from mating one of the most skilled men.
This is what's going on in my model. So the guy says, you know, okay, good. you, you could, you are nice, but I could marry this poor girl who's willing, you know, to have a very little, a very small fraction of my money. So why should I marry? So because of this competitive force, the most skilled women end up being better off not marrying a better man than a better man and meeting with an alpha man instead. So the sex and the city equilibrium is a situation where men at the bottom of the distribution of income do not marry, and women at the top of the distribution of income also do not marry. Okay? And so the poorest man who marries, is married to the poorest woman of all the women, and therefore is more highly ranked than, than the woman he marries. Whereas in the Victorian equilibrium, everybody marries somebody of the same rank.
Steve Hsu: So when I read your paper, I, I didn't realize you when you wrote it that you were already aware of these arguments being made kind of in the popular internet sphere among, I guess you would call the manosphere people.
Gilles Saint-Paul: Yeah, right. No, I was aware of these things and I thought it was, you know, quite interesting because this vision of how things work was very different from the views prevailing in academia. So it was an opportunity to, to study these things and to study them from a rigorous point of view.
Steve Hsu: So it seems to me the model is very reasonable in general. It didn't seem like you formulated the model in order to reach the conclusion of the manosphere.
Gilles Saint-Paul: No, I didn't want to reach a specific conclusion. And there are some Predictions that say that, you know, maybe the sex and the city equilibrium is better for growth than the Victorian equilibrium. It depends on the parameter. So, so basically one, you know, in the manosphere as you call it, one the decline of my age is going to lead to the decline of civilization. That's possible, but in my model, it's not the case. of course in economics we are very narrow minded, but if by civilization you mean a GDP,um, I do not have a general result that the sex and the city equilibrium has a lower GDP than the Victoria equilibrium. It depends actually.
Steve Hsu: As I was looking at your model, one of the parameters, which I found extremely interesting is something called gamma, which is the coefficient of the contribution of the capital, human capital accumulated in the children, in its contribution to the utility of the parent.
So it's basically how much the parents care about the success of their children. Am I right about that? And it's,
Gilles Saint-Paul: Yes.
Steve Hsu: like going back to the manosphere, you know, there are these CADs versus dads. So the dads would be people with high gamma and the CADs would be people with basically zero gamma.
Gilles Saint-Paul: Yeah. In my model, everybody has a game, but the cats do not know. The cats are the alphas in my model, and the cats don't know who their kids are.
Steve Hsu: I see. So in, in your model, if you have a kid but you don't know who they are? You.
Gilles Saint-Paul: You don't know who your kid is, you cannot invest in his or how human capital like this is what's
Steve Hsu: I see. I see. Got it.
Gilles Saint-Paul: Basically, you know, one important component of that model is that as a male, you can only know that your kids are your kids, provided you have signed an enforceable contract with a woman who says it's your kid. Okay? And the alphas, they accept all the mating opportunities but they do not have those mileage contracts, at least not necessary each time. So they don't know that the kids of the women with whom they mate aren't necessarily their kids. Okay.
And in some sense, it's a little bit, you know, a stretch of the imagination. It's a little bit of a modeling trick. But they care about, they care about their kids without knowing them. so they're better off when they are. They have more kids if you want. But, given that they don't know their kids, they cannot invest in their human capital. They wish, they wish they could, but they cannot.
Steve Hsu: I see.
Gilles Saint-Paul: So these are the cards in, in my model. Okay? Everybody has the same gamma by assumption. Of course, I could. Imagine another model where things take place, as you say. Okay, there, there is a gamma for the dads and a gamma called zero for the cats.
But in my model it's not what's going on. You have the same gamma that you behave as a cat because you don't know who your true genetic offspring are.
Steve Hsu: Yes, I I noticed the preprint was in 2008 and the published version is 2015. Did you have a difficult time with the referees?
Gilles Saint-Paul: Yeah, it was rejected by countless journals for a number of reasons,um, that you may have in your own field, which used to be less salient in economics. But, you know, Now economics is an academic discipline where people are territorial and historically it's not my field. So if you are a newcomer in one subfield,um, then it's tough, right?
Because people don't like newcomers. Okay? So there is this aspect which made it difficult to publish the insiders in this field. We are not particularly interested in having people migrating from other fields.It's a general problem, I think.
Steve Hsu: Yeah, I'm, I'm,
Gilles Saint-Paul: And then of course, the other issue, it could be problematic in light of political correctness.
That being said, there's a guy whom you might want to interview. David de la Croix, actually is the editor of a journal that published my paper, and he did excellent work on the economics of polygamy and, and, he published very well.
Steve Hsu: I see. So it was a mix of outside anti outsider bias and political correctness.
Gilles Saint-Paul: I think so.
Steve Hsu: Yeah. I think both effects exist for sure.
Gilles Saint-Paul: Yes.
Steve Hsu: Good. Well, I've taken up a lot of your time. I think we're well over an hour. Are there any final things you'd like to say? I, I, my audience is mostly, I guess, anglophone, scientists, professors, and startup people, entrepreneurs. Any, any wisdom you care to impart as a last message?
Gilles Saint-Paul: Well maybe I could say one last thing about this paper.
Steve Hsu: Yes. There is a last section which looks at sexual repression. And sexual repression is a social norm which forces people to marry. And if you have such, social norm or such a law, then you always end up at the Victorian equilibrium.
Gilles Saint-Paul: Okay. And so one way I interpret what's going on in the West is that, going back to May 68, you know, sexual repression was overturned in those years. And so, the social norm of having to marry disappeared and we are in a situation where, western society is gradually moving out of the Victorian equilibrium in the direction of the sex and the city equilibrium.
Steve Hsu: It's still the case. If you, if you look at the data, things are never as clear in the model as in the model. It's clear that men at the bottom of the income distribution have trouble marrying, which is what my mother does. For women at the top of the income distribution, things are more complex, right?Because they still marry a lot, but there is also, it's also true that they tend to divorce a lot. So the sex and the city phenomenon seems to appear in the form of a high divorce rate,as opposed to low marriage rates. So I wanted to, so to just, you know, to, to complete the discussion about this paper. I wanted to mention this, Yeah, that's a very good point. And I, I think just as an amateur socio sociologist, I, I would say yes, for sure, the social morays have changed and have allowed, you know, I, I think the SATC, Sex and the City lifestyle just would not have been approved of, you know, even one or two generations ago.
Does the equilibrium have any effect on TFR, the reproductive rate, or overall reproductive rate?
Gilles Saint-Paul: That's not something my model allows to look at, because in my model and maybe this is a bit ahead of reality, although again, there are signs of it but the, the, the high skilled women, do not marry, but they do have children from alpha mates. So there's no prediction that fertility should form.
So of course it's an interesting phenomenon, but my model is not constructed to address this phenomenon.
Steve Hsu: Yep, I understand. But I think a lot of these, the same people in the manosphere, probably would argue that the Victorian equilibrium leads to higher TFR than the other one.
Gilles Saint-Paul: sure. But there are plenty of arguments. There are people who say that, you know, fertility falls because of social security. You know, you don't need children to pay for your old age consumption. And of course, this has nothing to do with mileage markets. so there are plenty of trends that might be used to explain the, to expand the foreign infertility.
And of course, there is no scarcity of sociological or psychological explanations, you know, selfishness, atheism and so on and so forth.
Steve Hsu: You know, I, I, are you familiar with the work of an economic historian named Greg Clark at UC Davis?
Gilles Saint-Paul: I've heard of him, yes.
Steve Hsu: You, you might be interested in him because he claims to show using all kinds of marriage records, very deep, and old data sets that assortative mating is extremely strong actually and has been happening for, at least in England, where he has most of his data, hundreds and hundreds of years.
Gilles Saint-Paul: Right in my model there is perfect assortative mating, the both equilibria completely also author. That is to say richer men marry richer women. it's simply that the SATC is highly hyper ga and like the Victorian equilibrium that is to say, okay.women are poorer than their husbands in the SATC equilibrium, but it's still very, as author, if I'm richer, I will marry a woman with a higher human capital.
This is what it means to be as.
Steve Hsu: Yes, so I should have said something more specific, which is I think he has evidence that generally, you know, women from a particular strata are marrying men from the same strata, or similar strata. So, It, it's more like the Victorian equilibrium in the past, not, maybe not today, but in the past it was more like the,
Gilles Saint-Paul: yeah. Right, right. Yeah. Now the question of the extent to which we are moving to an S A T C equilibrium is, of course, remains an open question.And also, you know, the strata itself is endogenous. because if you know you are, I will talk about that in my paper. If you know you are not going to get married, you have lower incentives to accumulate human capital. So you are going to be downgraded in terms of strata.
So what we observe a lot, for example, wait a lot is women who marry men from the same strata blood, the man and the more than, than the woman. She's a teacher and is a lawyer, something like that, or a doctor. This is what you observe. So it's the same start up, but, what do we mean by that?
Steve Hsu: Yeah, in, in his work, there's a very technical way of defining what you mean by the strata, and even by looking at large biobanks, you can even see how correlated are the polygenic scores of two married individuals. So,you might find his work interesting. It does actually connect to you, in certain ways.
Gilles Saint-Paul: Okay, so it remains to be, it's, it's clear that historically the Victorian equilibrium prevailed if any, because there were strong, social norms against you know single motherhood and so forth. Now it's no longer the case, and we would like to know the extent to which society is moving towards something resembling more Sex And The City.
Steve Hsu: Yes. Well, part of the reason I was interested in your paper is because this is not so much about marriage, but more about mating. If you look at the data science around what is actually happening on Tinder and all these other dating apps, they're pa, they apparently support an insane amount of hypergamy when it comes to mating.
And so that's why I thought, when I saw your paper, I thought, wow, this guy, this guy, I re I, I later realized, you're not necessarily talking about mating, but you're talking about marriage. But my initial reaction was, wow, this guy predicted this long ago. So I was just mistaken. But
Gilles Saint-Paul: Right. Right. And that's a comparatively new phenomenon. Because in the traditional society people were, they were those who arrange marriages and they were quite assaulted.
Steve Hsu: Well, very good. I've, I've taken up, lots of your time. I really appreciate you staying up to talk to me and, any, any final message that you want to give to my listeners?
Gilles Saint-Paul: No, I guess it's fine for now.
Steve Hsu: Okay. Well, Gilles, thank you very much.
Gilles Saint-Paul: Going to have [unclear] now.
Steve Hsu: Yes. I wish you a good evening.
Gilles Saint-Paul: Thank you very much for contacting me.