Assorted links

by on February 18, 2013 at 12:30 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. David Autor on the relative roles of trade and technology.

2. Indian rice productivity seems to be rising.

3. Profile of Stanley Fischer.

4. Uh-oh (photo).

5. Ezra Klein on House of Cards.

6. Maker’s Mark has reversed its decision to dilute the alcohol content.

7. How the elephants get stacked.

8. Volatility and instructor turnover in the Coursera microeconomics class.

Rahul February 18, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Love title #7.

AndrewL February 18, 2013 at 12:46 pm

I heard the SoSP office is next door to the Department of Redundancy Department.

Chris February 18, 2013 at 2:43 pm

I wouldn’t call it redundant as much as recursive. Legislative naming is not Turing-complete.

Ashok Rao February 18, 2013 at 12:51 pm

2. Fantastic. This is exactly the kind of research we need, designing cultivation methods not just genes. However, I hope for the love of god this doesn’t become some huge outcry against GM foods, which has already caused enough pain and death.

Rahul February 18, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Based on just a hunch that article seems hype. I’m betting these “dramatically increased yields” won’t make a dent on total productivity.

I also smell a rat about those world records. Of course, I’ve no evidence. But wait and watch.

Mark Thorson February 18, 2013 at 1:18 pm

There might be a reason why the traditional methods are the traditional methods. It will be informative to find out how SRI does when there’s a drought or insect infestation. Maybe planting multiple seedlings in a group rather than single seedlings has an advantage when confronted with environmental stress.

Edmund Burke February 18, 2013 at 1:53 pm

I approve of this comment.

Dan Weber February 18, 2013 at 2:45 pm

From the article itself:

Achim Dobermann, deputy director for research at the International Rice Research Institute. “Scientifically speaking I don’t believe there is any miracle. When people independently have evaluated SRI principles then the result has usually been quite different from what has been reported on farm evaluations conducted by NGOs and others who are promoting it. Most scientists have had difficulty replicating the observations.”

axa February 18, 2013 at 4:46 pm

History repeats itself, ever read about the working man’s hero Mr. Lysenko?

Ray Lopez February 18, 2013 at 5:56 pm

Actually in Thailand they made similar ‘leaps’ in rice productivity using intensive cultivation and herbal pesticides. Saw it in a TV show, and the Thai ‘local hero’ was very similar to the Indian in the article. It really was not a miracle as much as simply being fastidious in cultivating rice–kind of like Japanese manufacturing expertise being applied to agriculture.

Ravi February 18, 2013 at 6:57 pm
Adrian Ratnapala February 19, 2013 at 4:14 am

“”"While the “green revolution” that averted Indian famine in the 1970s relied on improved crop varieties, expensive pesticides and chemical fertilisers, SRI appears to offer a long-term, sustainable future for no extra cost.”"”

The assumptions built into that sentence are interesting in themselves.

Prakash February 19, 2013 at 4:44 am

The farmer in question has used a variety of rice from Bayer, not a traditional seed. But with this technique the seeds are fewer, so it might lead to lower sales of GM, but with greater future sustainability of sales.

Rahul February 18, 2013 at 1:32 pm

#6 How many million dollars would Makers Mark have had to spend to get the publicity they got in the last few weeks? Creating the uproar may not have been a bad idea entirely.

Yancey Ward February 18, 2013 at 1:41 pm

I am not sure this is good publicity, though. All they have to show for it is the reputation of the bourbon that is watered-down before it reaches the bar.

Michael February 18, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Just like “New Coke” wasn’t the disaster it’s often thought to be. Coke was losing major ground to Pepsi, but after the “debacle” the company did much better! It got Coke’s name out there a lot and reminded many that they loved the “classic” product. Sure, that individual product (New Coke) did poorly, but it benefited the company overall.

zbicyclist February 18, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Yes, the idea that New Coke was a marketing debacle is ludicrous. Coke was #1 then. Coke is #1 now.

Common to both Coke and Maker’s Mark was knowing when to reverse directions. “Listening to your customers” is a basic rule of marketing (I’m looking at you, Microsoft — put that “Start” button back in Windows 8). [Should I really have to add this back by loading an aftermarket product?]

Willitts February 18, 2013 at 6:03 pm

On par with Kennedy Assassination theories and UFO stories is the idea that Coca Cola had some devious and ingenious plan to shoot itself in the foot and shortly thereafter demonstrate the ability to grow a new leg.

It is well known that Coke was failing in taste tests compared to Pepsi both in the famous Pepsi Challenge AND in Coke’s own tests. Their decision to change the formula was rational and planned.

Their goof was not recognizing that those who preferred origin Coke wouldn’t necessarily stick by their brand. Second, the taste tests were flawed because while marginal utility for a sweeter beverage is high on the first sip, and it’s not necessarily better for the whole can.

This was no ploy of Makers Mark either, and they discovered consumer push back before implementation. I knew it was stupid the moment they announced it and when I saw a MM commercial yesterday all I could think of is disgust. Just the idea of “watering down” whiskey is sufficient to destroy the brand image even if the average consumer already waters it down. I could envision competitors saying, “Not watered down.”

One move that I think was calculated was Bank of America’s plan to raise checking account fees which they later reversed. They wanted deposit runoff from unprofitable accounts. Makers Mark and Coke did NOT want or anticipate runoff.

Lonely Libertarian February 19, 2013 at 9:10 am

We will probably never know the real motivation for either New Coke or Maker’s. In the case of Coke though you can be sure taste tests were not in anyway critical – Coke knew that Royal Crown (RC) actually beat Coke AND Pepsi in three way taste tests. Coke marketers were and are sophisticated enough to know that attributes (such as ‘sweetness’) play a secondary role in determining consumer preference to benefits (like ‘refreshing’).

What is clear is that the publicity generated in both cases was worth a lot – and provided Makers an opportunity to talk about what makes their bourbon different – special which they took every opportunity to exploit.

Brian Donohue February 18, 2013 at 1:51 pm

re #7. The problem, as those in the social ‘sciences’ don’t seem to grasp very well, is that the methods of science don’t lend themselves equally well to all fields of human inquiry.

Andrew' February 18, 2013 at 1:52 pm

8. That’s a software problem.

Brett February 18, 2013 at 2:06 pm

#5 was good, and true. I noticed that at a lower level while interning for a medium-sized city government, and it’s something that rings true not just from the accounts I’ve read of politics in Washington, but also in the campaign trail (look at the stories about all the flubs Romney’s campaign made at implementing various kinds of turn-out).

Admittedly, some of that might be due to no one with particularly great political talents being in Congress. There’s no one on the part of LBJ, for example.

Michael B Sullivan February 18, 2013 at 2:46 pm

I find that it’s kind of hilariously true of all fields of human endeavor. Like, in discussion boards about my hobby (roleplaying games), people ascribe all of this, like, super-efficient, highly-informed behavior to the companies that make these games. “Well, obviously they wouldn’t be doing this if they didn’t have ironclad market data that clearly supports their conclusions.” And I find myself saying, “Have you guys ever WORKED for a company?”

There should be some kind of name for the fallacy of presumption of hyper-competence of every organization but your own.

libert February 18, 2013 at 10:12 pm

The grass is always greener…?

derek February 19, 2013 at 12:30 am


Tomasz Wegrzanowski February 18, 2013 at 2:07 pm

#2 sounds like the usual “cure for cancer” hype article.

Andrew' February 18, 2013 at 2:18 pm

5. “But I tend to be shocked at how sophisticated it isn’t. Communication between various political actors — a crucial ingredient in any serious plan — is surprisingly informal and inadequate. Members of Congress and their staffs don’t really have access to secret, efficient networks of information.”

Am I the douche? Don’t answer that.

Therapsid February 18, 2013 at 3:32 pm

“Members of Congress and their staffs don’t really have access to secret, efficient networks of information.”

True. They don’t have Journolist.

Andrew' February 18, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Maybe if they don’t have fast, up-to-date info they are trying to make decisions too quickly. Maybe they are doing that so they can get it done before the other side gets up to speed.

Claudia February 18, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Maybe they don’t have the luxury of time and experimentation … not everything works like a research lab. Why jump straight to the strategic, why not just trying to get something done?

Andrew' February 18, 2013 at 4:57 pm

That would be cool, unless you are the people claiming a birthright to the mantle of science.

Claudia February 18, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Huh? … translation, please (with some trepidation)

Andrew' February 19, 2013 at 8:28 am


Keep up. The people who claim to be the party of science want universal pre-k mandate based on a single study. And one of their insiders now thinks the problem with politics is that they don’t have the equivalent of high-frequency trading to make their policy decisions faster.

Andrew' February 19, 2013 at 8:29 am

So, that is to say, science makes progress through mountains of papers and individuals methodically poring over them and coming to their own conclusions very slowly.

y81 February 18, 2013 at 3:41 pm

7. I thought it was turtles all the way down?!!

Greg Ransom February 18, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Australian black swans + Darwin = the Hume/Mill/Carnap/Popper/Nagel/Hempel conception of science is bunk, mere pseudo-science.

Larry Siegel February 19, 2013 at 3:26 am

I think I usually can appreciate the finer points of irony, but you lost me.

Ray Lopez channeling Paul Krugman February 18, 2013 at 5:13 pm

@#3 – Stanley Fischer as the next Fed chairman? This is ominous: “America is Fischer’s adopted homeland: He was born in …, now Zambia. At 13 he moved to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), …” – so, he’s going to do a “Zimflation” on the US economy? Paul Krugman would be proud.

Ronald Brak February 18, 2013 at 10:15 pm

4. In Australia, every swan is black! Maybe that’s why our economy is doing so well?

Tracy W February 19, 2013 at 2:04 am

Yes, the book The Black Swan puzzled me for a very long time because black swans are quite common so I couldn’t figure out the metaphor.

Merijn Knibbe February 19, 2013 at 3:29 am

# 2. This way of improving yields is entirely consistent with the way yields were, slowly but surely, improved in Europe before the advent of fertilizer. Nothing miraculous about that. Especially weeding was a sure (but very labour intensive) way to improve yields. Higher yields however ‘automatically’ improved the productivity of other activities, like harvesting and threshing. It might prove necessary to start to use the dung as fertilizer instead of burning this most precious of agricultural inputs, replacing it with diesel or something like that (or peat, like in the sixteenth century Netherlands). ‘Drier’ rice culture will enable this. Remember to potato blight, however – phytophtora infestans still is a mayor problem in potato culture and still has to be combatted with chemical products (even in organic agriculture: copper sulfate). And high yields will ‘necessarily’ lead to more disease. We should take these farmers very, very serious and it’s great news. But agriculture is a continuous battle against the evolution of new pests and (government funded) agricultural research, carried out by tenured researchers with frequent direct and long term contact with farmers as well as the highest ranking government officials have to use every trick in and out of the books to increase our odds in this battle.

Didn’t know this by the way: “During the First World War, all of the copper in Germany was used for shell casings and electric wire and therefore none was available for making copper sulfate to spray potatoes. A major late blight outbreak on potato in Germany therefore went untreated, and the resulting scarcity of potatoes led to the deaths of 700,000 German civilians from starvation”

ThomasH February 19, 2013 at 7:47 am

#1. Trade and Technology => Employment and Distribution

I was disappointed in the failure to consider the role of aggredate demand. What role might a suboptimum rate of growth of NGDP play?

Lonely Libertarian February 19, 2013 at 8:53 am

Churchill kept a number of Black Swans at his home Cartwell

Hazel Meade February 19, 2013 at 10:56 am

#5. The thing I like most about House of Card is that it portrays (accurately IMO) a lot of the way bills are crafted as effectively a product of political patronage and favor currying. For instance, the “Delaware Watershed Project” in the series really had nothing to do with clean water. It was essentially just a political tool used to compensate Peter Russo for throwing in the towel on the base closure. And Peter Russo just wants the “jobs” for his buddies in the Shipbuilder’s Union, regardless of whether the base is actually necessary or not. Meanwhile, people are using political connections to advance their interests left and right, pulling strings to get their friend’s buddies kid into Stanford. And journalists hopping in bed (figuratively and literally) with politicians to make a big story and put the right spin on it, with total disregard for those quaint notions about ethics that the public is naive enough to think anyone adheres to.

The one false note is (as Klein points out) that somehow Underwood is an infallible schemer and every other politician is an innocent boy scout.

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