When using Twitter, both economists and natural scientists communicate mostly with people outside their profession, but economists tweet less, mention fewer people and have fewer conversations with strangers than a comparable group of experts in the sciences. That is the central finding of research by Marina Della Giusta and colleagues, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society’s annual conference at the University of Sussex in Brighton in March 2018.

Their study also finds that economists use less accessible language with words that are more complex and more abbreviations. What’s more, their tone is more distant, less personal and less inclusive than that used by scientists.

The researchers reached these conclusions gathering data on tens of thousands of tweets from the Twitter accounts of both the top 25 economists and 25 scientists as identified by IDEAS and sciencemag. The top three economists are Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz and Erik Brynjolfsson; the top three scientists are Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Cox and Richard Dawkins.

Here is further information, via Romesh Vaitilingam.  But I cannot find the original research paper on-line.  These are interesting results, but still I would like to see the shape of the entire distribution…

Some of the world’s best-known economists on Thursday announced plans to create what could be described as the thinking person’s cryptocurrency. Saga aims to address many of the criticisms frequently thrown at bitcoin, the world’s biggest cryptocurrency, to position itself as an alternative digital currency that is more acceptable to the financial and political establishment.

It is being launched by a Swiss foundation with an advisory board featuring Jacob Frenkel, chairman of JPMorgan Chase International and former governor of the Bank of Israel; Myron Scholes, the Nobel Prize-winning economist; and Dan Galai, co-creator of the Vix volatility index. The Saga token aims to avoid the wild price swings of many cryptocurrencies by tethering itself to reserves deposited in a basket of fiat currencies at commercial banks. Holders of Saga will be able to claim their money back by cashing in the cryptocurrency.

The currency also aims to avoid the anonymity afforded by bitcoin, which has raised financial crime concerns with regulators and bankers. Saga will require owners to pass anti-money laundering checks and allow national authorities to check the identity of a holder when required.

Oh so respectable sounding!  They’re not doing an ICO, instead there is a variable fractional reserve system, and the ruling principle is that Saga, the asset, “entitles its investors to a rising number of Saga as usage of the cryptocurrency grows.”  It sounds like a bet on the notion that bootstrapping is central to crypto success.  But do investors really want “safe harbours from the raging volatility”?  Do investors want a currency at all?  By the way, this one is proof of stake, not proof of work.

Here is their web site, and here is the White Paper.  Here are other readings on the asset.  Here is the original FT article, FTAlphaville is less impressed.

Do the participants have too much skin in other games?  So far I don’t see the point of doing this one, as it doesn’t create an asset with a truly different risk profile than the others, not from what I can see.

GOP House

GOP Senate

GOP White House

Planned Parenthood still getting $500 million in taxpayer funding

That is from a tweet by Peter J Hasson.  One of the most underreported and insidious forms of media bias is underestimation of the median voter theorem.  Unlike many forms of media bias, partisans on neither side have an incentive to reveal this one.  It really does make a lot of political struggles much less interesting and dramatic.  Here is my earlier post on “Three Word Explanations.”

Friday assorted links

by on March 23, 2018 at 11:42 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

A cryptocurrency called Agrocoin is giving buyers a chance to invest in some of the world’s spiciest peppers.

Mexico’s Amar Hidroponia, which grows only habanero chilis, started selling digital tokens in September as a way to raise capital from smaller investors. Each 500 peso ($27) Agrocoin is backed by a square meter of hydroponic production in Quintana Roo state. The company says it expects to pay a yearly dividend equal to about 30 percent of the cost, depending on output and demand.

Here is the full Bloomberg story.

My March 28 talk at MIT

by on March 23, 2018 at 2:32 am in Uncategorized, Web/Tech | Permalink

What happens when a simulated system becomes more real than the system itself?  Will the internet become “more real” than the world of ideas it is mirroring? Do we academics live in a simulacra?  If the “alt right” exists mainly on the internet, does that make it more or less powerful?  Do all innovations improve system quality, and if so why is a lot of food worse than before and home design was better in 1910-1930?  How does the world of ideas fit into this picture?

Here are details on the lunch seminar.

We were able to recruit 52 Amish participants for our study of which 56 % were male and for which the average age was 44. Interestingly, the average levels of life satisfaction as measured by the SWLS (Diener et al., 1985) was 4.4; just above the neutral point. Above neutral scores are consistent with the idea that “most people are mildly happy” (Diener & Diener, 1996), and that mild happiness is evolutionarily advantageous (Fredrickson, 2001). Comparatively, the Amish satisfaction in our study can be interpreted as meaning that the Amish fall lower than members of many other groups. In a study of more than 13 thousand college students from 31 nations, for example, only students from Kenya (whose average life satisfaction was 4.0) scored lower than the Amish (Diener & Diener, 1995).

Anecdotally, the Amish society in which we conducted our study was fraught with contrasts. On the one hand, the Amish had a pronounced pro-social attitude. One man I interviewed, for example, had donated tens of thousands of US Dollars toward the medical treatment of his neighbor’s son, with no thought of repayment. Similarly, the Amish often helped one another in quilting, construction, and food preparation. On the other hand, these neighborly behaviors were confined to in-group members. There was a conspicuous degree of prejudice toward out-group members, especially ethnic or religious minorities. One bishop, for example, asked me whether I thought the space shuttle Challenger exploded because there was a Jewish person (Judith Resnick) aboard.

Another set of contrasts could be found in the relationship between the Amish and the larger “English” society in which they live. While on the one hand there is a strong cultural push to remain separate from industrialized society. The Amish I spoke with were highly invested in publicly conforming to group norms related to abstaining from the use of industrial technologies and from remaining aloof from broader society. Privately, however, the Amish revealed themselves to be as curious and as human as people from any other society. One participant, for example, admitted that he used his workplace telephone—an allowable technology—to phone a newspaper number that hosts recordings of the world’s news. Another informant revealed that she had secretly flown on an airplane. These examples reflect the on-going tension of a society that must—individually and collectively—continually re-negotiate its relation to the larger society in which it exists. Where subjective well-being is concerned, the tension between retaining traditions and adapting to new circumstances is an interesting issue for research.

…global and specific domain satisfaction should, theoretically, be in agreement. For example, if a person is satisfied with her romantic life, her friendships, and her family relationships—all specific domains—she should, logically, report about the same amount of satisfaction with her overall social life (the global domain). Diener and colleagues found that this correspondence occurred in some cultures, such as Japan. In other cultures, however, they discovered an inflationary effect. People in Colombia and the United States, for instance, are likely to inflate their global reports of satisfaction over that reported for specific satisfaction.

That is by Robert Biswas-Diener, there is much of interest in this paper on happiness in small societies.  Via Rolf Degen.  By the way, this article about Norway is worth a ponder too.

I will be doing a Conversation with him, no associated public event.  Here is his home page, here is his bio:

Balaji S. Srinivasan is the CEO of Earn.com and a Board Partner at Andreessen Horowitz. Prior to taking the CEO role at Earn.com, Dr. Srinivasan was a General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz. Before joining a16z, he was the cofounder and CTO of Founders Fund-backed Counsyl, where he won the Wall Street Journal Innovation Award for Medicine and was named to the MIT TR35.

Dr. Srinivasan holds a BS, MS, and PhD in Electrical Engineering and an MS in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University. He also teaches the occasional class at Stanford, including an online MOOC in 2013 which reached 250,000+ students worldwide.

His latest Medium essay was on ICOs and tokens.  I thank you all in advance for your wise counsel.

ARTS FUNDING: It goes up despite Trump’s attempts to slash. NEA and NEH funding climbs $152.8M each. National Gallery of Art gets $165.9M; John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts receives $40.5 million. All increases over last year.

Here is a link.  In the meantime, here is some tech and Facebook advice from Twitter.

Thursday assorted links

by on March 22, 2018 at 11:57 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. New results about Denisovans.

2. “…the evidence suggests that electoral incentives successfully induce incumbents to exert professional effort.”  And eliminating the university Boards of Regents would be a big mistake for Arizona.

3. Who’s complacent?  The culture that is Maine.

4. China extrapolation of the day: “The famine in China 1959-61 was the single biggest in history, in terms of numbers of deaths. But in terms of long-run population trends, the impact was remarkably small.”  And Amazon might produce three seasons of The Three-Body Principle.

5. A good take on Facebook and the Zuckerberg speech.

6. I recommend the Israeli movie Foxtrot, though it is best to see it without spoilers and without reading reviews.

In 2003 I wrote The Politician and Mechanic Conspire to Rip Me Off in which I cited a study (another here) showing that annual automobile safety inspections do not increase safety but do waste time and money and generate unnecessary repairs. I have continued to rant about these wasteful policies ever since.

Today, however, there is some good news. As vehicle quality is increasing, some states are actually discontinuing these “safety” inspections including the District of Columbia in 2009, New Jersey in 2010, and Mississippi in 2015. Repeal, however, is still hotly contested in many states:

“If [the repeal] is passed,” said Texas Senator Eddie Lucero, Jr., “I am going to have trouble sleeping at night. Why are you willing to place yourself and Texans in danger by passing [this repeal]?” Similarly, Utah Representative Jim Dunnigan claimed that many of his constituents “would drive their car until their brakes fall off and their muffler falls off and their tires fall off” and that an inspection was the only way to ensure that vehicle owners took care of potential safety concerns. These claims are backed by most automobile service stations, who generally profit from performing the inspections and now claim that repealing the inspection program “will definitely result in more accidents.”

That’s from a new paper by Hoagland and Woolley that uses New Jersey, a repeal state, to test whether repeal leads to more accidents. Using a synthetic control methodology and precise data on fatal accident rates from throughout the United States, Hoagland and Woolley conclude that:

…removing the requirements resulted in no significant increases in any of traffic fatalities per capita, traffic fatalities due specifically to car failure per capita, or the frequency of accidents due to car failure. Therefore, we conclude that vehicle safety inspections do not represent an efficient use of government funds, and do not appear to have any significantly mitigating effect on the role of car failure in traffic accidents.

It’s time to ditch the annual safety inspection and either move to no inspection system at all or like Maryland move to a system that requires safety inspections only at transfer. I’m not convinced that is necessary either, since at transfer is precisely when the buyer will run an inspection anyway, but at least that system would reduce the number of inspections significantly.

Hat tip: Kevin Lewis.

But because of the way trade deficits are measured, almost all the value of those components is attributed to China, which exports the final product. Reuters reports that 61 million iPhones were shipped from China to the US in 2017 and suggests that just a single phone—the iPhone 7 model, released in 2016 and on sale for all of last year—accounted for $15.7 billion of the trade deficit, or 4.4%.

Louis Kuijs, head of Asia economics research at Oxford Economics, told Reuters if trade deficits were measured to account for the complex nature of global supply chains like the ones used by sophisticated consumer products like smartphones, the US-China trade deficit would be about 36% lower, or $239 billion.

That is from Allison Schraeger.

Prisoners who study prison

by on March 22, 2018 at 12:22 am in Law, Science | Permalink

After leaving prison, some ex-convicts are becoming academics themselves. There is a growing convict criminology group, which has members in countries around the world.

…Stephen Richards spent nine years in prison for conspiracy to distribute marijuana, and is now professor emeritus of criminology at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh.

He was arrested while he was a college student, and finished his degree by correspondence while in U.S. federal prison. After he was released from prison, he went directly to graduate school and completed a Master’s degree and a PhD.

“Five years out of prison, I was a professor, and I became one of the first convict criminology professors,” he says.

Richards’s experiences in jail made him want to work to fix the system once he got out.

“Part of being a convict criminologist is realizing that you know something that most academics in the social sciences don’t know. You’ve got inside information about what’s wrong with the criminal justice system — literally, inside. You know what a failure the system is, and you want to do something about it,” he says.

That is from CBC Radio, via Michelle Dawson.  And here is the Journal of Prisoners on Prisons.

German food’s decline “reflects the cultural mix of this country toward more Latin American, Asian and African American culture, and less of the mainstay Germanic culture that influenced this country for many decades,” said Arnim von Friedeburg, an importer of German foods and the founder of Germanfoods.org. “The cultural shift is going on, and German culture has to fight or compete to keep its relevance.”

Here is more from Maura Judkis at WaPo.

Wednesday assorted links

by on March 21, 2018 at 12:06 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. The lice culture that is Dutch (America).  Is this representative?

2. A thread on the new Chetty result.

3. Francis Bator was killed by a car with a human driver (NYT obituary).

4. How to stay healthy on a plane?

5. A useful Cambridge Analytica/Facebook story.  Here is the most analytical paragraph: “At its core, according to a former Facebook executive, the problem is really an existential one. The company is very good at dealing with things that happen frequently and have very low stakes. When mistakes happen, they move on. According to the executive, the philosophy of the company has long been “We’re trying to do good things. We’ll make mistakes. But people are good and the world is forgiving.””  And Clickhole on Facebook.

6. 83 days at the Ritz.