Assorted links

by on November 16, 2013 at 12:43 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Swarms of everyday objects sometimes look alive.  And what are the ten biggest breakthroughs in physics over the last 25 years?

2. There is talk of a new Borjas paper criticizing immigrant complementarity.  I cannot myself click through to the actual paper.  Note: new George Borjas piece on the wage effects of immigration actually is here.

3. Did the Great Divergence have late medieval origins?

4. Robert Pippin reviews Žižek on Hegel: “…one of the most curious things about Hegel’s basic position is that it can be fairly summarized by saying that there is no independent, positive position. Rather it is the right understanding of the other logically possible positions.”

5. I wonder if they will smell (there is no great stagnation).

6. What is the shadow cast by the Asian financial crisis?

1 dearieme November 16, 2013 at 2:33 pm

“the ten biggest breakthroughs in physics over the last 25 years?”: my pal The Particle Physicist says there haven’t been any. Whether he’d care to say as much in public I don’t know. Still, it all depends on your standards I suppose.

2 Attila Smith November 16, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Your pal is spot on. Between 1905 and 1930 there were Einstein, Bohr, Dirac, Heisenberg, Schrödinger, De Broglie, …discovering special and general relativity and quantum physics. And what have we got? Extrasolar planets and tpological insulators! We are dwarves trampled on by shoulder-free giants…

3 neil November 16, 2013 at 11:26 pm

low hanging fruit.

4 Ray Lopez November 16, 2013 at 11:50 pm

Backwards thinking, post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy to say low-hanging fruit is a problem for today’s stagnation. You can apply the low-hanging fruit label to any breakthrough, even a difficult one, it proves nothing.

The real problem is government not providing incentives to invent. When the US put a patent system in place, in the 19th century, innovation took off. Same with England earlier with patents. Compare to France and China, where innovation was frowned upon and the state was glorified. Give a man a fish, teach a man to fish. How to become rich in today’s USA? Not invent something, but rather become a gatekeeper, a lawyer, a doctor (keeping grandma alive for a few more months is your value add), a finance person (pie carver, not pie enlarger), a rent seeker (politician, real estate speculator) and last but not least, work for the government (state, federal or local–you’ll eat well saving cats out of trees, shuffling paper, etc).

5 So Much for Subtlety November 17, 2013 at 1:39 am

I would bet that the problem with physics is *not* incentives to invent. Rather it is too many, and especially too large, incentives to do so.

Physics is a young man’s game. Yet since the Manhattan program physics experiments have got bigger and more expensive. Physicists have said they can produce miracles – but only if they get some hugely expensive toy. Governments have given them to them.

However, who runs these toys? Who gets to decide which experiment to run? Old men. Physicists in the twilight of their careers. CERN is a great example. It has absorbed over a billion Swiss francs last year. Its director, Rolf-Dieter Heuer, is, I am sure, a nice guy. But he was born in 1948. What has CERN produced? Nothing but the Worldwide Web. When Tim Berners-Lee was an unusually old 34 years.

I am willing to bet that virtually every discovery people have named as significant have been done on the cheap by the young. Extra-solar planets have been discovered in abundance by the Kepler telescope – one of NASA’s cheap missions. It weighs all of about a ton. The people usually given credit for finding them are Aleksander Wolszczan and Dale Frail (a post-doc) in the US and Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz (a Ph.D. student) in Geneva. Certainly I have some doubts about Mayor claiming much of the credit.

If we want physics to advance, the money spent on CERN would do better if it was divided up into million dollar grants and handed out to the x% of the best students at all the major universities in the West, and the recipients were told to think what they liked until the money ran out. Einstein did more as a patent office clerk than he did at the Institute of Advanced Studies.

6 Peldrigal November 17, 2013 at 7:00 pm

It’s false, of course, but even if it were true, a billion CHF for the WWW seems a good bargain: keep them going.

7 john personna November 17, 2013 at 10:04 am

As an alternate metaphor, consider exploration of a continent. Great expeditions map the territory, but subsequent work becomes filling-in in finer detail.

I don’t think another Einstein could discover another relativity. It is a mapped continent.

8 TMC November 17, 2013 at 10:12 am

Good analogy.

9 Rafael G November 17, 2013 at 9:02 pm

I think that in physics the problem may be the way the university system is structured these days. Specially in the hard sciences the process of earning a graduate degree and publishing research more and more punishes creativity in favor of simple reproduction of already tried and tested methods, models and theoretical perspectives. Scientific revolutions also don’t occur inside the centers that reproduce the current methods: one will not find the next Einstein in a top physics department in of the US. Advances made can stay under the radar for a long time as well.

10 jqhart November 19, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Physicists can’t explain over 95% of the observed mass-energy in the universe. Most of reality is an _unmapped_ continent.

11 Dan November 16, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Here is the Borjas paper: http://www.hks.harvard.edu/fs/gborjas/publications/working%20papers/BGH2011.pdf

The blog post and paper you linked to are five years old.

12 Steve Sailer November 16, 2013 at 2:48 pm

“The blog post and paper you linked to are five years old.”

Wow, it’s almost as economists who aren’t experts on immigration have been taking Peri’s various outdated papers about immigration on faith for all these years.

13 Careless November 16, 2013 at 5:36 pm

But Tyler googles himself all the time and is mentioned in that post.

14 prior_approval November 17, 2013 at 5:44 am

Filtering out his own domain though, I’ll bet.

15 Steve Sailer November 16, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Here is the website for Borjas’s upcoming magnum opus:

Immigration Economics
George J. Borjas

Publication: June 2014
Available 06/02/2014

Millions of people—nearly 3 percent of the world’s population—no longer live in the country where they were born. Every day, migrants enter not only the United States but also developed countries without much of a history of immigration. Some of these nations have switched in a short span of time from being the source of immigrants to being a destination for them. International migration is today a central subject of research in modern labor economics, which seeks to put into perspective and explain this historic demographic transformation.

Immigration Economics synthesizes the theories, models, and econometric methods used to identify the causes and consequences of international labor flows. Economist George Borjas lays out with clarity and rigor a full spectrum of topics, including migrant worker selection and assimilation, the impact of immigration on labor markets and worker wages, and the economic benefits and losses that result from immigration.

Two important themes emerge: First, immigration has distributional consequences: some people gain, but some people lose. Second, immigrants are rational economic agents who attempt to do the best they can with the resources they have, and the same holds true for native workers of the countries that receive migrants. This straightforward behavioral proposition, Borjas argues, has crucial implications for how economists and policymakers should frame contemporary debates over immigration.

http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674049772

16 john personna November 17, 2013 at 10:10 am

When you have free trade, and containerized shipping, between the two countries, the worker flow becomes less interesting.

17 chuck martel November 16, 2013 at 3:37 pm

#1. Big deal.

18 Adrian Ratnapala November 16, 2013 at 6:07 pm

#3 England and Holland overtake Spain smack in the middle of the 100-years war. That’s strange in the case of England, because I thought it’s institutional improvements didn’t come until much later. It was just a thuggish monarchy (which is why the 100-years war happened).

19 Therapsid November 16, 2013 at 7:57 pm

A lot happened during the period covered by the 100-years war, most importantly the decline of serfdom in England.

20 jonfraz November 17, 2013 at 6:29 pm

The War Of The Rose also did England the favor of killing off much of its old nobility thereby allowing new and talented blood to rise to the top. The Tudors themselves started out as minor Welsh gentry who found themselves in the right place at the right time and made it all the way to throne.

21 foobarista November 16, 2013 at 6:28 pm

On the “great divergence”, you can see just how badly China got nailed by the Mongols. They didn’t recover their pre-Mongol per-capita maximum GDP until a few years ago, arguably spending 900 years recovering from that disaster. And the Qing Dynasty sucked in China, even before the Europeans showed up.

22 Therapsid November 16, 2013 at 7:54 pm

The Song Dynasty at its height, prior to the Mongol Invasion:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Along_the_River_During_the_Qingming_Festival

23 Shane M November 16, 2013 at 9:12 pm

#1 swarm photos: If you just glanced through – note many of the photos are _not_ digitally enhanced. It’s an analog scene in many cases – can see the “line/wire” holding up some of the objects if you look

24 ummm November 16, 2013 at 9:32 pm

“there is no great stagnation)”

but i thought you wrote a book with such a title. But with stocks surging, profits & earnings being blowout for 5 consecutive years, snapchat being worth 4 billion, etc I agree that were’re not in a stagnation by any stretch of the imagination.

25 mike November 16, 2013 at 11:37 pm

Snapchat being “worth” 4 billion is proof of the great stagnation

26 john personna November 17, 2013 at 10:07 am

The insanity of cumulative advantage pricing.

27 Shirley Wang November 17, 2013 at 2:03 am

3. A study done three years ago into the DNA of seven variants of Black Death found they all emerged from Southern China. Yet this paper continues the lie that Black Death plagues started in Western China or Central Asia.

China never reached the level of Ancient Rome. The Renaissance was a rebirth of Roman civilization. It started in Italy and spread out across Europe. In the GDP per capita figures you can see Italy ahead of other European countries at the beginning of the Renaissance. Eventually through innovation Europe broke the Roman ceiling and went higher than ever before. China was nowhere near doing anything like that.

28 jonfraz November 17, 2013 at 6:32 pm

In modern times Central Asia is one of the great reservoirs of yersinia pestis in the world, and Europe in the 1300s had commerce with the region, which was an ancient crossroads of civilization. It’s easy to see how the notion that the plague started there arose and endured.

29 nick November 18, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Cross-cultural, and even cross-genetic, per capita income estimates are highly conjectural and subjective, at least before the era of cheap global specie flow initiated by Da Gama and Columbus allows comparison of prices, so it’s no surprise to see such estimates subject to major revisions. That said, many of the economically important innovations in northwestern Europe long predate the industrial revolution, including the following biological bundle:

(1) heavy dairying
(2) lactase persistence and cow’s milk protein co-evolution
(2) greater age of marriage
(3) hay
(4) much greater use of draft animals

Greater use of draft animals led to higher labor productivity and larger markets for agricultural output, and thus to greater agricultural specialization. Higher labor productivity implies higher per capita income, even if it can’t be measured. For most other civilizations by contrast, much less use was made of draft animals with the result that these effects were confined to within a dozen or less miles of navigable water.

Contrariwise, northern Europe has always been at a severe ecological disadvantage to warmer climates when it comes to growing rice, cotton, sugar, and most other economically important crops. How do you compare the “wealth” or “income” of rice-eating and cotton-waring Chinese farmer to a milk-drinking, oat-eating, and wool-clad Scottish peasant? It isn’t very useful to try to reduce such cultural and even genetic differences to mere numbers.

30 Thor November 17, 2013 at 6:45 pm

Zizekian Hegelianism … there is no stagnation.

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