While cruising the internet I ran into this recent working paper (pdf) by Daniel Benjamin, James J. Choi, and Geoffrey Fisher:

We randomly vary religious identity salience in laboratory subjects to test how identity effects contribute to the impact of religion on economic behavior. We find that religious identity salience causes Protestants to increase contributions to public goods. Catholics decrease contributions to public goods, expect others to contribute less to public goods, and become less risk averse. Jews more strongly reciprocate as an employee in a bilateral labor market gift-exchange game. Atheists and agnostics become less risk averse. We find no evidence of religious identity-salience effects on disutility of work effort, discount rates, or generosity in a dictator game.

In the recent hullaballoo, it has been forgotten that perhaps the best paper on whether religion is good for you was written by Jonathan Gruber.

Assorted links

by on November 24, 2014 at 10:53 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. John Cochrane on behavioral political economy and why it isn’t better.

2. High status voices have a different sound.

3. “…competition induces exaggerated negative tones in blogs, which is unrelated to information. Our results suggest that social media may provide mixed incentives for its participants in terms of information efficiency.”

4. Andrew Ng on Baidu.

5. Overstated but interesting critique of renewables.

6. The actual, stereotypical Coase theorem.

Best non-fiction books of 2014

by on November 24, 2014 at 1:34 am in Books, Economics, History | Permalink

First there are the economics books, including books by people I know, including Piketty, The Second Machine Age, Tim Harford’s wonderful macro explainer, Megan McArdle’s The Up Side of Down, Lane Kenworthy on social democracy, The Fourth Revolution by John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge, Daniel Drezner The System Worked, and Frank Buckley on why the Canadian system of government is better.  And Russ Roberts, How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness.  We’ve already talked, written, and thought about those plenty, and they are not what this list is about, so I will set them aside.  Most of you are looking for excellent new books in addition to these, books you might not have heard about.

Here are the other non-fiction books of the year which took my fancy, mostly in the order I read them, noting that the link usually leads you to my previous review or comments:

Jürgen Osterhammel, The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century.  Long, exhausting, and wonderful.

Christopher Hale, Massacre in Malaya, a broader history than it at first sounds, fascinating from beginning to end.

Howard Eiland and Michael W. Jennings, Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life.

The Very Revd John Drury, Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert.

John Keay, Midnight’s Descendants: A History of South Asia since Partition.  An excellent treatment of how much work remains to be done in the “nation building” enterprise in South Asia.

Alice Goffman, On the Run: Fugutive Life in an American City.  A sociology graduate student hangs out with lawbreakers and learns about police oppression, an excellent micro-study.  My column on her book is here.

Gendun Chopel, Grains of Gold: Tales of a Cosmopolitan Traveler, Tibetan scholar goes to India and records his impressions, unusual.

George Prochnik, The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of His World.  I loved this one.

I’ve only read the first half of the new Tom Holland translation of Herdotus’s Histories (I will get to the rest), but surely it deserves note.

Evan Osnos, Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China.  This book won the National Book Award for non-fiction.

David Eimer, The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China.  A look at China’s outermost regions and their ethnic minorities.  Just imagine that, we had two excellent popular China books in the same year.

The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman, by Davi Kopenawa.  Repetitious in parts, sometimes incoherent too, but it offers a smart and unique perspective you won’t get from any of the other books on this list or any other.

Jonathan Rottenberg, The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic.  This treatment stresses the (partial) cognitive advantages of having a tendency toward depression.

Edward Hirsch, A Poet’s Glossary, assorted facts and insights about the English language, you don’t have to feel like reading a book about poetry to find this worthwhile.

David Sterling, Yucatán: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition, huge, expensive, wonderful, more than just a cookbook though it is that too.  I’ve spent some of the last few weeks learning these recipes and what makes them tick.

Walter Isaacson, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.  A good overview of how some of the main pieces of today’s information technology world fell into place, starting with the invention of the computer and running up through the end of the 1990s.

Arthur M. Melzer, Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing.

Andrew Roberts, Napoleon: A Life.

Jan Swafford, Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph.  As good or better than the classic biographies of the composer.

Stephen Kotkin, Stalin, vol. 1.  This one I have only read a part of (maybe 150 pp.?), it is very long and does not fit my current reading interests, but it seems very good and impressive and also has received strong reviews.  So I feel I should include it.

Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell, The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins.

So who wins?  If I had to pick a #1, it would be The Very Revd John Drury, Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert, not the kind of book I would be expecting to coronate, which is a testament to the magnetic force it has exercised over my imagination.

Then I would pick Alice Goffman, On the Run: Fugutive Life in an American City and David Sterling, Yucatán: Recipes from a Culinary Expedition as the runners-up.

My fiction picks were here.  There are still some wonderful books to come out this year, and already-published books I will still read, especially after mining other “best of” lists, so around Dec.31 or so I’ll post an updated account of what I would add to this list.

Assorted links

by on November 23, 2014 at 5:19 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. A lot of anomalies exist only in hard to trade stocks.

2. Why is a neuroscientist working for Uber?.

3. What is the most popular funeral song? (British)

4. Izabella Kaminska criticizes free banking.

5. At The New Statesman, authors choose favorite books for 2014.

6. Why is the Swedish language so incomplete?  And why are they voting on it?  This raises the question anew of which semantic issues should be turned into matters of explicit political debate, the culture that is Sweden.

THREE times in the last 35 years, Russian military forces have crossed international borders – in Afghanistan in 1979, Georgia in 2008 and the Crimea earlier this year. As Simon Derrick, the currency strategist at BNY Mellon points out, each occasion coincided with a peak in the oil price. And each incursion was followed by a very sharp fall in the price of crude (see chart).

…If the previous episodes are any guide, oil has a fair way to fall.

That is from Buttonwood at The Economist, file under “speculative”…

Sewage Infrastructure

by on November 23, 2014 at 9:08 am in Food and Drink, Uncategorized | Permalink

This Vice documentary on sewage in New York is actually quite interesting. I would enjoy the Richard Scarry book.

Hat tip: Connor.

China estimate of the day

by on November 23, 2014 at 3:53 am in Economics, History | Permalink

…the evidence suggests that China was larger (in terms of purchasing power parity) than any other economy in the world until around 1889, when the US eclipsed it. Now, 125 years later, the rankings have reversed again, following decades of rapid economic development in China.

That is from Jeffrey Sachs, there is more here.

…cetacean brain size, relative to body size, increased substantially about thirty-eight mill years ago when the odontocetes evolved from the ancient archaeocetes…

What drove these changes? It does not seem to have been the transition to an aquatic existence itself as that occurred about fifty-five million years ago and brains stayed at roughly the same relatively small size relative to body weigt as the archaeocetes made their gradual entry into the ocean.  A better hypothesis is that the increased brain size of the odontocetes thirty-eight million years ago was driven by the evolution of echolocation.  The early odontocetes had inner ear bones that were good at picking up high frequency sound, which suggests that they had developed a form of sonar.  Lori Marino thinks “that echolocation came on line and then got co-opted for social communicative purposes.”  In this scenario, the odontocete brains increased in relative size to deal with the acoustic information itself, as well as, perhaps, a new perceptual system based on the data from the returning echoes.  But…the change may have been even more profound: “This may indicate that the large brains of early odontocetes were used, at least partly, for processing this entirely new sensory mode [echolocation] that evolved at the same time as these anatomical changes and perhaps for integrating this new mode into an increasingly complex behavioral ecological system.”

That is from the new and notable The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins, by Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell, previously covered on MR here.  And here is my earlier post on the economics of dolphins.

Brazil (China) fact of the day

by on November 22, 2014 at 2:04 pm in Economics, History | Permalink

From 1967 to 1980, Brazil grew at an average annual rate of 5.2 per cent. Few would have predicted, then, that for the next 22 years per capita income would grow at precisely zero.

That is from David Pilling at the FT, who considers China as well.  And here is part of the first comment on the article, from Danny Quah:

Success, by definition, means being different from the mean. For economic growth the quantitative implications of such success (or even apparent failure) are laid out in http://blogs.worldbank.org/futuredevelopment/chinese-lessons-singapore-s-epic-regression-mean. Sure China’s continued growth faces manifold obstacles but many of those problems are not insurmountable http://www.boaoreview.com/perspective/2013/1115/296.html

The pointer here is from Helmut Reisen.

The Bill Cosby Collection

by on November 22, 2014 at 10:56 am in Current Affairs, The Arts | Permalink

It doesn’t sound quite right to still call it that, does it?  In any case it is on display at the National Museum of African Art.  At least two-thirds of the collection is lame and maybe a third or somewhat less is wonderful.  Cosby for instance has excellent works by Jacob Lawrence, Horace Pippin, Minnie Evans, Henry Ossawa Tanner, (and here), Romare Bearden, some amazing quilts and textiles (try here too), and quality African ethnographic pieces.  The works by lesser-known creators are mostly sentimental junk with lots of gloppy paint and hackneyed historical themes, or perhaps a maudlin portrait of some kind.

My hypothesis is simple: in any collecting area where price is a sufficient statistic for quality, Cosby did well by paying top dollar, or at least by letting himself be “mined” by his buyer agent, who probably had a financial incentive to pay top dollar.  In any area where judgment was required, Cosby chose very poorly.

Here is one review of the show and the surrounding controversy.  Here is WaPo coverage.  What is the average moral quality of assemblers of art?  How should we feel about the collection in the Louvre, the Prado, or for that matter art museums anywhere in Russia?  Here is an article on how colleges and universities are responding to their involvement with Cosby.

The African Mosaic show at the African Museum is worth a visit as well.  The Washington D.C. art exhibit scene is much worse than it was fifteen years ago, but right now the African Museum is the place to go.

Assorted links

by on November 22, 2014 at 1:35 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. When does the peak of emotional life occur?

2. Paul Krugman advising Japan.

3. What would a Ukrainian financial meltdown look like?

4. Bobsled desegregation.

5. The coming global domination of chicken?

6. How public pay phones are evolving.

The art sale gender pay gap

by on November 22, 2014 at 12:16 am in Economics, The Arts | Permalink

A Georgia O’Keeffe painting just sold for over $44 million, setting a new record for a painting by a woman; the previous record was for a Joan Mitchell painting auctioned for $11.9 million.  A Francis Bacon once auctioned for $142.4 million, and so:

Despite the huge O’Keeffe sale, the cavern between the men’s and women’s records remains yawning. The gender pay gap is something like 84 cents to the dollar. The art sale “record gap” is now about 31 cents to the dollar. Before Thursday, it was 8 cents.

That is by Oliver Roeder, the full article is here.

The Great Zynga Reset

by on November 21, 2014 at 2:03 pm in Current Affairs, Economics | Permalink

At companies where pampering employees has always been part of the culture, it is hard to stop if business turns sour. Zynga Inc. shares have fallen more than 80% since 2012 as the game maker struggles to find a follow-up hit to “Farmville.” Before going public in 2011, Zynga began serving lunch and dinner daily to its employees, using specialty ingredients like Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise and pinecone syrup.

A spokeswoman for Zynga, based in San Francisco, says the company ended free haircuts for employees earlier this year. She declined to comment further.

As perks get bigger and better, some employees figure they can ask for anything. One worker at Pinterest recently wanted the company to build a zip line to a nearby bar, while an Adobe employee asked the maker of Photoshop and Illustrator design software to buy a Slip ’N Slide for workday use.

The article, which focuses on perks in the workplace, is of interest more generally.  For the pointer I thank Samir Varma.

Assorted links

by on November 21, 2014 at 11:48 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. What Larry Summers is thankful for.  And Larry Summers reviews Too Big To Jail, an important book in his view.

2. Trying to predict the Supreme Court.

3. More evidence for The Great Factor Price Equalization.

4. The importance of Great Medieval Thinkers.

5. The liquidity monster that awaits.

6. The Karl Marx credit card.

You will find it here (pdf), forthcoming in the Erasmus Journal of Philosophy and Economics.

For the pointer I thank Ray Lopez, who in turn drew upon Patrick R. Sullivan, a commentator at The Money Illusion.