Tyler Cowen

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is the concluding paragraph:

The general spread of expertise, high housing costs in the most successful cities, and perhaps even a degree of intellectual complacency in Silicon Valley all may, looking forward, favor some of America’s laggard regions. There is no single answer to regional economic development, but finally some factors seem to be pointing in the right direction.

And this:

Mandel also estimates that the e-commerce sector has added 270,000 jobs to the American economy since March 2014, across multiple regions, and, in spite of all the recent problems, retail employment remains above its 2007 peak. Some additional good news is that e-commerce distribution jobs tend to be better paying and less of a dead end than most retail jobs. The warehouse and storage sector is growing dramatically, and those jobs are typically far from the wealthiest parts of the country — they are boosting Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

In the last two years, again according to Mandel, “the regions outside the top 35 metro areas accounted for almost half of net new establishments,” compared with less than one-fifth of net new businesses during the seven preceding years.

And the opening:

Sometimes significant news doesn’t make much of a splash, and that was the case for a major transaction last week. PetSmart Inc. announced the acquisition of Chewy.com LLC for $3.35 billion, the largest e-commerce deal ever. Also notable is that Chewy.com, which sells pet products online, is based near Fort Lauderdale, Florida, rather than San Francisco or Seattle or New York. Might we be at a point where startups and e-commerce drive economic growth and job creation in many regions of the country, not just a few of the more famous (and expensive) areas?

Do read the whole thing.

The author is Richard E. Ocejo, and the subtitle is Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy.   Here is one summary bit:

The three transformations that frame the content of this book — the restructuring of elite taste around omnivorousness, the changing of traditional community institutions int destinations of the new cultural elite in retail, and the recoding of work in the new economy — combine to explain how these jobs and businesses have become upscale, cool, and desired.

The jobs are bartender, distiller, barber, and butcher.

…these new elite manual labor jobs give men — mainly those of a certain race and social class standing — the chance to use their bodies directly in their work, as men did in the industrial era but do so less often today, as well as their minds, which grants them greater status in these jobs than they would otherwise have.  They are simultaneously respected knowledge workers and skilled manual laborers, and perform their work in public.  Men are thus able to use these jobs to achieve a lost sense of middle-class, heterosexual masculinity in their work.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in the evolution of labor markets, how America will respond to ongoing automation, the production of status, and the role of men in an increasingly feminized society.  It is more of an “thick description, insights throughout” book than an “easy to sum up the bottom line” treatment.  Here is the book’s home page.  Here is a very positive FT review of the book.

That was then, this is now

by on April 28, 2017 at 12:37 pm in History | Permalink

In Britain and Ireland, a large number of enterprising early birds made a living waking people for work.

A knocker-up would be paid a few pence a week to make the rounds and rouse workers, banging on their doors with a short stick or rapping on upper windows with a long pole. The knocker-up would not move on until he received confirmation that his drowsy client was up and moving.

The profession died out in the 1920s as alarm clocks became cheaper and more reliable, but a few specialized knockers-up — such as Doris Weigand, employed by a railway depot to summon workers for short-notice shifts — survived for a few decades more.

Here is the full story, via Michael Clemens.  Remember how the Brits used to say “can you knock me up in the morning?”  Here is the Guardian on the race to build the world’s first sex robot.

Friday assorted links

by on April 28, 2017 at 11:48 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

Stubborn Attachments is the advance peek bonus book I offered to those who pre-ordered The Complacent Class.  I once described Stubborn Attachments as follows:

In that work, I outline a true and objectively valid case for a free and prosperous society, and consider the importance of economic growth for political philosophy, how and why the political spectrum should be reconfigured, how we should think about existential risk, what is right and wrong in Parfit and Nozick and Singer and effective altruism, how to get around the Arrow Impossibility Theorem, to what extent individual rights can be absolute, how much to discount the future, when redistribution is justified, whether we must be agnostic about the distant future, and most of all why we need to “think big.”

Here is the FT Alphaville blog post, with a link to the podcast, and here is the iTunes version of the podcast, it is unlike any other podcast I have done.  About the book, Cardiff Garcia writes:

Unlike the last few sequences of Tyler’s longer published works — the books on culture and economics, the self-help via economics wisdom books, and the Stagnationist trilogy — Stubborn Attachments is foundational Tyler. It represents the Tyler from which the distinctive contrarian and provocative and educational and speed-reading and culture-savvy and eccentric Tylers all emerge.

It is also the most comprehensive expression of Tyler’s particular brand of libertarianism that I have read.

There is also a “desert island” section of the podcast, where Cardiff asks me which bodies of film, for instance which directors, I would most want to have on a desert island.  He also asks me to construct my NBA “Dream Team,” which indeed I do for him.

Save the drama for a llama on your wedding day. No, really! For brides getting married in the Portland, Oregon, or Vancouver, Washington, area, your llama dreams can now be turned into reality. Mtn Peaks Therapy Llamas & Alpacas is offering an exclusive service to brides and grooms who want to make sure their wedding is the most talked about event of the year. Because we mean, what’s more memorable than some dressed up alpacas at your reception?

Here is the story, from a bridal magazine, good photos at the link, via Catherine Rampell and also Jodi Ettenberg.  Meanwhile I found this of interest:

A poll from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) of young Americans ages 18-to-25 shows that almost no millennials want a career in construction — a high-paying industry. 64 percent of these millennials said they wouldn’t even consider working in construction if you paid them $100,000 or more.

74 percent of young adults know what career field they want to pursue, and of these millennials, just 3 percent want a career in construction trades. What’s more stunning is that of the 26 percent who don’t know what career they want, 63 percent of these undecided millennials said there was “no or little chance regardless of pay” that they would work in construction trades.

That article is via Douglas Wolf, see also Bob Samuelson on millennials.

What if they can clone your voice?

by on April 28, 2017 at 12:59 am in Film, Web/Tech | Permalink

It’s a Canadian company that specializes in speech synthesis software. They’ve developed software they claim can copy anyone’s voice and make it say anything.

The founders tell me if they can get a high-quality recording of you speaking for just one minute, their software can replicate your voice with very high accuracy.

If they get a recording of you speaking for five minutes, they say it would be difficult to tell the difference between your voice and their computer-generated mimic. That’s where the name Lyrebird comes from: a lyrebird is an Australian bird that’s noted for its mimicry.

Here is the story, as they say solve for the equilibrium…

Confidential business conversations over the telephone might dwindle, and perhaps we will have Peter Cushing and Humphrey Bogart movies for a long time to come.  What else?

For the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

I refer you to the excellent post by A Fine Theorem on David Donaldson, here is one excerpt:

Donaldson’s CV is a testament to how difficult this style of work is. He spent eight years at LSE before getting his PhD, and published only one paper in a peer reviewed journal in the 13 years following the start of his graduate work. “Railroads of the Raj” has been forthcoming at the AER for literally half a decade, despite the fact that this work is the core of what got Donaldson a junior position at MIT and a tenured position at Stanford. Is it any wonder that so few young economists want to pursue a style of research that is so challenging and so difficult to publish? Let us hope that Donaldson’s award encourages more of us to fully exploit both the incredible data we all now have access to, but also the beautiful body of theory that induces deep insights from that data.

The post is superb, yet A Fine Theorem remains underrated.

Thursday assorted links

by on April 27, 2017 at 11:31 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, and here is one part of my argument:

This argument for a corporate tax cut — “let’s borrow more now while rates are relatively low” — is remarkably like the argument that Keynesians have been using for more government infrastructure spending for years. The main difference is that here the spending would be done by private corporations rather than the federal government. You may or may not believe the private expenditures will be more socially valuable than the government expenditures, but if you think we can afford one kind of stimulus we probably can afford the other. And as I said, the private rate of return on investment probably is higher than the government’s borrowing rate, even if you think that government spending would yield higher returns yet.

Of course that argument does not require unemployed resources.  On the micro side, I find it amusing when people suggest that the rate of return on government infrastructure is high, but that corporations have nothing better to do than to sit on their cash.  It is hard to have it both ways!  Imagine arguing that biomedical R&D through the NIH yields high returns, but that pharma investment to commercialize the resulting drugs or devices does not.  National parks aside, most government investment is in inputs, and thus for it to have a high marginal rate of return someone on the output side has to have a high marginal rate of return as well.

Here is another part of my argument:

The pessimist might wonder whether companies would take their windfall and invest it at all. Many companies might simply hold the gain in money management accounts. In this scenario, the tax plan probably won’t be worth passing, as American companies would have nothing useful to do with the free resources, even when given a nudge to invest. That should induce a fairly panicky response, including radical deregulation of business and fiscal austerity on entitlements, but I don’t see critics of the tax plan following up on this view consistently.

There is much more at the link, and do note my rather significant caveats on the plan.  And here is Kevin Williamson on the plan.

What I’ve been reading

by on April 27, 2017 at 12:19 am in Books, Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Édouard Louis, The End of Eddy.  LitHub wrote: “Even in the wake of Knausgaard and Ferrante it is hard to find a literary phenomenon that has swept Europe quite like the autobiographical project of Édouard Louis.”  I don’t know that I enjoyed this book very much, but it was an effective fictional experience.  Most of all it scared me that such a tale of poverty and abuse could be so popular in Europe these days.  Recommended, but in a sobering way; I would rather this had been a bestseller in 1937.

2. Karan Mahajan, The Association of Small Bombs.  A novel about the consequences of a Delhi terrorist bombing that is both deep and compelling to read, full of surprises as well.  Here is a useful NYT review.

3. Edward T. O’Donnell, Henry George and the Crisis of Inequality: Progress and Poverty in the Gilded Age.  This focuses more on George’s connection to social and labor movements, and less on George as an economist or land theorist, than I would have liked.  Still, it is an information-rich narrative that most of all brings the times and movements surrounding George to life.

4. Andrew Marr, We British: The Poetry of a People.  A good introduction to its topic, most of all for the mid-twentieth century, with plenty of poems reproduced.  Here is a Louis MacNeice poem, Snow:

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was

Spawning snow and pink roses against it

Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:

World is suddener than we fancy it.


World is crazier and more of it than we think,

Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion

A tangerine and spit the pips and feel

The drunkenness of things being various


And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world

Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes —

On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of your hands —

There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

Hindu fact of the day

by on April 26, 2017 at 1:43 pm in Education | Permalink

96% of Hindus in the US have at least a college degree or its equivalent.

Here is the source.

Wednesday assorted links

by on April 26, 2017 at 11:56 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

Facts about trade deficits

by on April 26, 2017 at 8:17 am in Economics | Permalink

A series of research studies identifies the fundamental factors behind trade imbalances (Chinn and Prasad 2003 (link is external); Gruber and Kamin 2008 (link is external); Chinn, Eichengreen, and Ito 2011 (link is external); Gagnon 2012; IMF 2012 (link is external); Gagnon 2013; Bayoumi, Gagnon, and Saborowski 2015 (link is external); and Gagnon et al. 2017 (link is external)).2 The most important factors include fiscal policy, intervention in currency markets, trend economic growth rates, per capita income levels, and prospective population aging. Barriers on financial flows have an important interaction with these factors; when financial markets are open, these factors generally have a larger effect on trade imbalances. Many studies focused on long-term factors, but business cycles may also be an important temporary factor. None of the studies found any role for trade barriers.

Figures 1 and 2 show little apparent correlation between average tariff rates or overall trade barriers and trade balances. If anything, higher tariffs are associated with lower trade balances (larger deficits). Including tariffs in regression analysis that controls for other factors yields an effect that is close to zero.

That is from Joe Gagnon, via Mark Thoma.  There are some useful pictures at the link.

 Oeindrila Dube and S.P. Harish have a new NBER working paper called “Queens”:

Are states led by women less prone to conflict than states led by men? We answer this question by examining the effect of female rule on war among European polities over the 15th-20th centuries. We utilize gender of the first born and presence of a female sibling among previous monarchs as instruments for queenly rule. We find that polities led by queens were more likely to engage in war than polities led by kings. Moreover, the tendency of queens to engage as aggressors varied by marital status. Among unmarried monarchs, queens were more likely to be attacked than kings. Among married monarchs, queens were more likely to participate as attackers than kings, and, more likely to fight alongside allies. These results are consistent with an account in which marriages strengthened queenly reigns because married queens were more likely to secure alliances and enlist their spouses to help them rule. Married kings, in contrast, were less inclined to utilize a similar division of labor. These asymmetries, which reflected prevailing gender norms, ultimately enabled queens to pursue more aggressive war policies.

Why would the kings have been less likely to marry for purposes of war?  Is it because they actually were entranced with love, whereas queens are more practical?