Assorted links

by on March 2, 2013 at 12:03 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. The career incentives of Jihadi clerics.

2. Price inflation is too low.

3. Ryan’s real robot talk.

4. Mid-period Martha Stewart (I am not surprised).

5. The Great Famine potato spud returns to Ireland (MIE)

6. I’m all for science funding, neuro too, but is the Brain Activity Map really the way to go?  There is an introduction to the idea here.

7. Signaling (recommended for economists to click to see the photo).

1 Ray Lopez March 2, 2013 at 1:00 pm

@#1 – sort of intuitive: Jihandists will appeal to non-mainstream people like themselves, who lack education and cannot advance within the system. Good to know that it’s true at the ‘statistical level’ not just ‘common sense’ level

@#2 – price inflation is too low? OK, we’ll see how badly this ends. NY Times is softening the hoi polloi for the coming inflation IMO

@#3 – We need to give dumber workers redistributive incomes for their jobs being displaced by robots. OK, when we get to that magic kingdom I agree. We’re not there yet.

@#4 – Martha Stewart as a model in the 1960s. Did you know she’s part Oriental? Look at her eyes. No unheard of in Eastern Europe (Mongols)

@#5 -“The variety of potato at the root of the Great Famine will be widely available in Ireland for the first time in almost 170 years from next week after being re-cultivated by an Antrim potato farmer with a keen interest in the history of the humble spud.” Monoculture is dangerous anywhere–even in the USA which has a limited number of wheat and corn varieties. And the Cavendish banana comes to mind too–ships well, tastes pretty good (not as good as some others though)–but too ubiquitous

@#6 – Sexist comment: does Ms. Miyoung Chun (apt name!) look a bit like sexy woman chess grandmaster and fashion model Arianne Caoili ? I think so. Link for the latter here:

@#7 – A ugly post modern type concrete building named after a Nobelian who won a prize for signaling–proving there’s always a market for lemons.

I went through each link, the ball is *back* in TC’s court

2 JWatts March 2, 2013 at 2:04 pm

#3. I agree were not there yet and I like the phrase Magic Kingdom.

3 Cliff March 3, 2013 at 1:05 am

The Mongols were not Oriental…

4 elcapitan March 5, 2013 at 10:57 am

nor is Oriental an accepted descriptive term for anything but rugs.

5 john personna March 2, 2013 at 2:09 pm

At $300M per year, the Brain Activity Map may throw off sufficient gains. Can we do it for $200M? 😉

6 BC March 2, 2013 at 2:27 pm

@#3 I am still waiting to read one of these robots-may-take-all-our-jobs pieces that includes at least some discussion about comparative advantage vs. absolute advantage. How is it that robots will have a comparative advantage in producing everything, i.e., how can relative advantage for all products be above average relative advantage? How is it that comparative advantage provides benefits of trade between neighbors, between states, and between nations, but not between robot-owners and non-robot-owners?

I would also like to read at least some recognition that the composition of jobs, and what constitutes high-wage jobs and low-wage jobs, is not static and itself is dependent on the robots/technology available. We do not have to speculate about what happens to employment when new technologies arrive. Technology has been “replacing” labor for centuries. Indoor plumbing, for example, has eliminated the demand for labor, hired or self-labor, to retrieve fresh water from the local pond. To what extent would it make sense to limit availability of indoor plumbing to help protect the jobs of water-retrievers? Among people that would otherwise retrieve their own water, have they found another use for that time and effort, for example, in more leisure time or in doing other work that is even more valuable? Finally, has indoor plumbing exacerbated inequality between those in the water industry and everyone else? When we figure out what policies are required to address the social inequities brought about by indoor plumbing, we will understand the policies required to address future robots and technology.

7 john personna March 2, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Surely we have adequate data represented by “the displaced.” They are non-theoretical at this point.

8 Brandon Berg March 2, 2013 at 4:51 pm

How is it that robots will have a comparative advantage in producing everything

Technically, they won’t. However, the TCO of a robot determines the maximum an employer is willing to pay for a worker who can’t outperform the robot in some relevant way. Set the minimum wage at or above that level, and none of those workers can get jobs.

9 john personna March 2, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Sure, and when you set that minimum wage lower (below the public benefits line) you create a public-private partnership to keep people in jobs. The government pays to keep robots (or imports) out, at that point.

10 BC March 2, 2013 at 6:01 pm

I assume that we are talking about the long run, where prices adjust, rather than the short run, since we are concerned with the impact of robots/technology over the coming decades, not the impact of a robot built this year on employment next year.

I thought that the whole idea behind comparative advantage was that the robot could have an absolute advantage over a worker in producing both Goods A and B, but if that robot is deployed to produce Good A, then it cannot simultaneously produce Good B, i.e., the cost of using the robot to produce A includes the opportunity cost of not producing B. Thus, if the robot’s comparative advantage is in producing B, the robot will not be used in producing A. More concretely, producers of B will outbid producers of A for the robots, and thus workers will be used to produce A. Robot costs and worker wages are not static and reflect opportunity costs.

In the long run, we have infinite demand for goods and services and finite economic resources, including robots. That seems to be forgotten in these suggestions. (Of course, if one truly believes that insufficient demand can be a problem in the long run, then I guess trying to “change the culture of greed” — trying to convince people to be satisfied with a finite rather than infinite level of utility — is just about the most hostile, long-run, anti-worker policy that one could adopt.)

11 BC March 2, 2013 at 6:05 pm

“That seems to be forgotten in these suggestions.”

Oops. I don’t know why I wrote “suggestions.” I meant, “That seems to be forgotten in these robots-will-take-our-jobs arguments.”

12 Marie March 2, 2013 at 2:33 pm

#4. I didn’t realize she was currently 71. Knowing that the modeling pictures make a lot of sense.

13 Luis Pedro Coelho March 2, 2013 at 4:09 pm

The problem with the brain mapping project is that it was already being done by the private sector.

At least with the genome project (another massive public project whose goal would otherwise be achieved by the private sector), there was fear that Celera would not publish the data or even patent it. In the brain mapping case, it’s HHMI and the Allen Brain Map, both non-profits.

14 mw March 2, 2013 at 4:39 pm

The Allen Brain Map has nothing to do with mapping brain activity. Additionally the public private distinction has very little meaning when it comes to HHMI and Allen, both of whom fund portions of the labs of the same researchers who get NIH funding. Moreover, the notion of HHMI investigators mapping all the activity of every neuron in the brain on their own is completely absurd on its face. I’m not sure any of the articles has adequately conveyed the scale, or the ill-definedness, of the activity mapping problem, which, to be fair, they have only themselves to blame for in trying to brand it as an analogue of the genome project.

15 BC March 2, 2013 at 4:16 pm

@#6 I think there is a broader question around “Big Science” vs. “Small Science”. Is the government any better at picking scientific winners and losers than economic winners and losers? Obviously, both Big Science and Small Science are funded (mostly) by government, so the issue is not government vs. markets; it’s centralized decision making vs. distributed decision making. With Big Science, appeals are made to politicians to fund a small number of large, high-profile projects. With Small Science, lots of small projects are funded by peer review involving many fellow scientists and researchers.

Has there been any work in trying to understand which approach yields “better” results? Of course, it is very difficult to quantify results, even at the level of the scientific discoveries. In addition, many people may not necessarily appreciate that one of the benefits of government-funded science is the education of STEM graduate students. Arguably, that could be even more economically valuable than the scientific discoveries themselves. (For the typical STEM PhD graduate, what is more economically valuable to society: their dissertation research or the output of their subsequent professional career?) So, any comparison of Big Science vs. Small Science would also have to account for the number and quality of grad students educated, the diversity of backgrounds and abilities developed by those students, the subsequent economic impact of those students after entering the workforce, etc.

I have my own intuition/guess about which has broader impact, admittedly no empirical evidence to back it up though.

16 Andrew' March 3, 2013 at 4:09 am

“Obviously, both Big Science and Small Science are funded (mostly) by government”, – See more at:

Not necessarily true. I have been seeing a lot of government-funded research that has appeared to me to be reverse engineering the products of some private enterprise. There is plenty of science in your laundry detergent.

17 JWatts March 3, 2013 at 10:27 am

And there’s plenty of science in food products also.

18 BC March 3, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Good points, both @Andrew’ and @JWatts. Let me re-phrase:

I’m not referring here to the virtues of government-funded vs. privately-funded research. Even if one concedes that the government should fund some types of research, for example research with positive externalities, there is still the issue of whether such funding should be distributed through centralized decision making or distributed decision making.

19 Steve Sailer March 2, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Brain Activity Map — Sounds like Obama read a lot of Jonah Lehrer articles.

20 LB March 3, 2013 at 1:18 am

I don’t think it’s a good idea, but it’s not something that is just being endorsed by shallow popularizes. The assumption that it is suggests a shallow knowledge of the field.

21 TGGP March 5, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Would that be worse than reading a lot of Malcolm Gladwell articles?

22 Michael March 2, 2013 at 6:02 pm

I’d like to try to grow a few Lumpers in Texas. The blight would probably have to be stirred up by an asteroid hit on Ireland to get here; so I’d take my long chances. I was interested to see that some potatoes I do grow have an emergent, what looks like a, leaf in four quadrants structure, i.e. a ‘four leaf clover.’

23 Bill Benzon March 2, 2013 at 6:41 pm

@#6: When the genome project was proposed the biologists knew what they were looking for and they had techniques that would get it on a routine basis. The brain activity map (BAM) is not like that. It’s not clear to me that there’s even a definite goal (getting real-time data from every neuron isn’t particularly well-defined as neurons are very complex cells whose operations depends, among other things, on 100s of neurotransmitters). And the techniques for getting this information are not in place, not by a long shot. And then there’s the opportunity cost.

24 Joe Smith March 2, 2013 at 8:57 pm

@#1 – Seems really interesting and important. The sort of paper that could make a career. I started reading a section and hit a grammatical error so I stopped reading.

25 Joe Smith March 2, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Of course the career could be spent in a windowless room in Langley – but that career would still be interesting and important.

26 NK March 3, 2013 at 12:09 am

#1: association number 1: global warming scientists

27 Andrew' March 3, 2013 at 4:15 am

What is the deliverable of the brain activity map? I’m unclear. I can tell you EXACTLY what the deliverables are for 3D printing vascularized and innervated tissues, anti-aging, the screw-drive heart, pre-natal nutrition development and toxicology, organ markets (esp. kidneys), personalized medicine and cancer treatment research avenues, and even (the overhyped) stem-cell research. It’s funny that about the time stem cells got to the point of relevance it lost its fundraising mojo.

28 Andrew' March 3, 2013 at 4:18 am

(And I would stand to personally benefit from it)

29 TallDave March 3, 2013 at 2:31 pm

#2. Even that is probably overstated. The so-called liquidity trap is probably better described as an inflation expectations trap deriving from the difference between what central bank policy claims to be and what people actually perceive is happening to the value of money.

CPI is basically guesswork, hedonics is a very personal thing. Better to target something real, like NGDP.

30 Justin March 4, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Is the Spence building on the Stanford campus?

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