Tyler Cowen

…the surveys also revealed a lack of enthusiasm for buying or using a driverless car programmed to avoid pedestrians at the expense of its own passengers. One question asked respondents to rate the morality of an autonomous vehicle programmed to crash and kill its own passenger to save 10 pedestrians; the rating dropped by a third when respondents considered the possibility of riding in such a car.

Similarly, people were strongly opposed to the idea of the government regulating driverless cars to ensure they would be programmed with utilitarian principles. In the survey, respondents said they were only one-third as likely to purchase a vehicle regulated this way, as opposed to an unregulated vehicle, which could presumably be programmed in any fashion.

That is from an MIT press release, here is the background:

The paper, “The social dilemma of autonomous vehicles,” is being published today in the journal Science. The authors are Jean-Francois Bonnefon of the Toulouse School of Economics; Azim Shariff, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Oregon; and Rahwan, the AT&T Career Development Professor and an associate professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab.

The abstract notes that if drivers are required to purchase “utilitarian-programmed” vehicles, they may be less willing to buy at all, thus postponing the adoption of what is likely to be a much safer technology.

For the pointer I thank Charles Klingman.

Here is from MIT Technology Review, surveying research on chess blunders and cognition by Ashton Anderson at Microsoft Research in New York City, Jon Kleinberg of Cornell, and Sendhil Mullainathan:

…Anderson and co have found evidence of an entirely counterintuitive phenomenon in which skill levels play the opposite role, so that skillful players are more likely to make an error than their lower-ranked counterparts. The team call these “skill anomalous positions.”

That’s an extraordinary discovery which will need some teasing apart in future work. “The existence of skill-anomalous positions is surprising, since there is a no a priori reason to believe that chess as a domain should contain common situations in which stronger players make more errors than weaker players,” say Anderson and co. Just why this happens isn’t clear.

I don’t, by the way, find the concept of skill anomalous positions to be so surprising.  Better chess players have more “chunking” and more intuitions.  Usually that knowledge adds value, but in a variety of counterintuitive positions it can lead players down the wrong paths.  For instance a beginner probably does not know that on average a Queen and Knight working together are more effective than a Queen and Bishop, yet this is not always true and the less tutored intuition will sometimes prove correct.  Similarly, the better player may think that an endgame of Bishops of opposite color is more likely to be drawn, and often that is true.  Yet in other situations those ill-matched Bishops can yield an attacking advantage to the player with the better command of space, and so on.

I believe there are analogous concepts for economics and also philosophy, probably for other disciplines too.  For instance in economics I wonder if a person with less knowledge of open economy macroeconomics might sometimes end up making better forecasts.  Many anti-elitist theories of politics imply these phenomena can be true in a broad range of situations, Brexit for instance according to some.

That is the new book by Ben Wilson, and no it has nothing (directly) to do with Brexit.  Rather it is a survey of the technological breakthroughs of the 1850s and how they reshaped Great Britain and the globe more generally.  Here is one short bit:

Japan may have secluded itself from the rest of the world, but it had not closed itself off.  That was a distinction that people in the West were slow to grasp.  The shogun’s court subscribed to the Illustrated London News, for example, and the bakufu had acquired books and papers detailing global politics and scientific discoveries through their Dutch and Chinese trading partners.  This knowledge was strictly regulated, but the seeds of scientific enlightenment were diffused in small numbers across the archipelago.  Perry did not know it — and nor did many Japanese — but his telegraph was not the first on Japanese soil.

Other parts of this book which I enjoyed were on the Great Geomagnetic Storm of 1859, how the British saw a connection between the U.S. Civil War, and the origins of Reuters.

If you want a new Brexit-relevant title of interest, try Brendan Simms, Britain’s Europe: A Thousand Years of Conflict and Cooperation.

Monday assorted links

by on June 27, 2016 at 11:38 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Dutch government to fund major research replication effort.

2. Modeling the giraffe: can it swim?  How can you argue with sentences such as these: “Giraffe limb bones are slightly thicker than those of other artiodactyls (van Schalwyk et al. 2004), so their density was set as being somewhat higher than the rest of the body (1050 g/l vs 1000 g/l). The giraffe’s most notable feature – its neck – was set at 850 g/l, as is typical for hoofed mammals. As we’ll see, the high density of the distal parts of the limbs and low density of the neck and head seem to have implications for the floating and swimming behaviour of giraffes.”

3. “Maybe instead of blaming elites we should be blaming the fact the GDP now seems to have a unit root.

4. The impact of lexical and sentiment factors on which research papers get cited.

5. Some basics on Article 50 notification.

Brussels notes

by on June 27, 2016 at 10:29 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

I strongly recommend a visit, as the different currents of contemporary Europe swirl together here like nowhere else.  You can see high culture, high taxes, dysfunctional governance, bickering linguistic groups, EU bureaucrats, tourists, Art Nouveau, Turks and Moroccans, and cops carrying submachine guns, all within minutes of each other.  It is cheaper than most other major European cities, and has excellent architecture, art, and food, including ethnic food and some of the continent’s best African food (try Resto Bar Tam-Tam).

Unlike in Paris, the immigrant neighborhoods are often no more than a ten or fifteen minute walk from the major non-immigrant neighborhoods.  That is the geographic feature which gives Brussels its special feel.  Here are my notes on Molenbeek, a short stroll from city center.

The area near the European Commission reminds me of the part of Washington with the World Bank and IMF.  Hard to believe, I know.

I don’t find the chocolate here better than in say France, but Brussels does show that chocolate competition lowers prices.

Here is Ian Buruma on Brussels.

Yes, I am still pro Remain, and also generally pro immigration, and I am still hoping the Brits take a cue from DeAndre Jordan.  (I also see geopolitics and national security as a significant reason to favor Remain, just ask Putin; furthermore the transition problems are looking worse than many had expected.)  But I am growing distressed by the material I am seeing from the Remain side.  At some point we have to limit our moralizing about the vote and start treating it more like data, if only to figure out how to best overturn or reverse it.

As I interpret what happened, ultimately the vote was about preserving the English nation, and yes I use those last two italicized words deliberately; reread Fintan O’Toole.  Go back and read English history.  For centuries, England has been filled with English people, plus some others from nearby regions.  Go visit Norfolk and also stop in Great Yarmouth, once described by Charles Dickens as “…the finest place in the universe,” and which, for whatever decline it may have experienced, still looks and feels like England.  London does not.

As Zack Beauchamp notes (in a piece which is mostly an example of what I am criticizing): “…the number of foreign-born people living in the UK has gone from 2.3 million in 1993 (when Britain joined the EU) to 8.2 million in 2014.”

In terms of distribution and influence, the impact of those numbers is much larger yet.  London, the cultural center, business center, and political capital of England for many centuries, is now essential a global and indeed foreign city.  I spent almost two weeks in London in 1979, and while I clearly prefer the new version the difference is glaringly obvious to me, as I am sure it is all the more to most English people.  (And that contrast is clearest to the older English of course, and that helps explain one of the most pronounced demographic features of how people voted; it is inappropriate how many Remain supporters are cursing the arguably better informed preferences of the elderly.)

Cities such as Bradford, while still predominantly white, no longer feel as English (and German!) as they once did.  And if you are thinking that voting “Leave” does not at all limit Pakistani immigration, you are truly missing the point; this vote was the one lever the English were given for sending a message to their politicians.

It would be a falsehood and exaggeration to say “Islam is now the major religion of England,” but given low rates of Anglican church attendance, it is not an entirely absurd claim to at least wonder about.  And for better or worse, a lot of people just won’t put up with change that is so rapid and far-reaching.  Believe it or not, they are not persuaded by my “British Muslims must lead the global Islamic Reformation” conviction.

All of this migration has brought a “cultural trauma” arguably more significant than anything for England since the Norman Conquest.  In fact, under a lot of estimates the Norman Conquest was no more than about 10,000 men, relative to an estimated English population of 1.7 million at that time.

Quite simply, the English want England to stay relatively English, and voting Leave was the instrument they were given.  That specific cultural attachment is not for Irish-American me, no, I feel no sentiment, other than perhaps good humor, when someone offers me “a lovely biscuit,” or when a small book shop devotes an entire section to gardening, but yes I do get it at some level.  And some parts of the older England I do truly love and I am talking the Beatles and Monty Python and James Bond here, not just the ancients like Trollope or Edmund Spenser.

Much has been made of the supposed paradox that opposition to immigration is highest where the number of immigrants is lowest.  Yes, some of that is the racism and xenophobia of less cosmopolitan areas, but it would be a big mistake to dismiss it as such or even to mainly frame it as such.  Most of all it is an endowment effect.  Those are the regions which best remember — and indeed still live — some earlier notion of what England was like.  And they wish to hold on to that, albeit with the possibility of continuing evolution along mostly English lines.

One way to understand the English vote is to compare it to other areas, especially with regard to immigration.  If you read Frank Fukuyama, he correctly portrays Japan and Denmark, as, along with England, being the two other truly developed, mature nation states in earlier times, well before the Industrial Revolution.  And what do we see about these countries?  Relative to their other demographics, they are especially opposed to very high levels of immigration.  England, in a sense, was the region “out on a limb,” when it comes to taking in foreigners, and now it has decided to pull back and be more like Denmark and Japan.

The regularity here is that the coherent, longstanding nation states are most protective of their core identities.  Should that come as a huge surprise?  The contrast with Belgium, where I am writing this, is noteworthy.  The actual practical problems with immigration are much greater here in Brussels, but the country is much further from “doing anything about it,” whether prudently or not, and indeed to this day Belgium is not actually a mature nation-state and it may splinter yet.  That England did something is one reflection of the fact that England is a better-run region than Belgium, even if you feel as I do that the vote was a big mistake.

Of course, USA and Canada and a few others are mature nation states based on the very idea of immigration, so they do not face the same dilemma that England does.  By the way, the most English of the colonies — New Zealand — has never been quite as welcoming of foreign immigrants, compared to say Australia.

Scotland and Northern Ireland have much less interest in “the English project” and of course they voted for Remain at high levels; the Welsh are somewhat closer to the English perspective and they had a majority for Leave.  I also would argue that Scotland and Northern Ireland have in fact never been truly coherent nation states, with many of the Irish in chaos for centuries and Scotland piggybacking on a larger Great Britain.  They (correctly) see the EU as a vehicle to attaining greater coherence, and thus it is no surprise that EU membership led to a nearly successful Scottish independence referendum, with perhaps another independence vote to follow.

Adam Ozimek has some good remarks on debating immigration.  Here are some interesting accounts of those who voted Leave.  Note that voting “Leave” may not even end up giving the English/British control over their immigration policies, once a new deal is struck with the EU.

Restoring and maintaining what is English?  “Too little, too late!’ says I, “you should instead find a way of strengthening and redefining English identity under the status quo ex ante,” I might have added, but of course I was not given the deciding vote or indeed any vote at all.

Most of all, I conclude that the desire to preserve the English nation [sic] as English is stronger than I or indeed most others had thought.  There is a positive side to that.  And if all along you thought there was no case for Leave, probably it is you who is the provincial one.

I have pre-ordered this forthcoming Robert P. Jones book, here is the Amazon description:

Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), challenges us to grasp the profound political and cultural consequences of a new reality—that America is no longer a majority white Christian nation.

For most of our nation’s history, White Christian America (WCA)—the cultural and political edifice built primarily by white Protestant Christians—set the tone for our national policy and shaped American ideals. But especially since the 1990s, WCA has steadily lost influence, following declines within both its mainline and evangelical branches. Today, America is no longer demographically or culturally a majority white Christian nation.

Sam Tanenhaus called it (NYT): “…quite possibly the most illuminating text for this election year.”

Swiss markets in everything:

For those willing to pay a little more for their morning coffee, a café will be opening in Geneva, Switzerland offering its customers oral sex while they sip their latte…

According to the Mirror Online, Charvet told the Swiss newspaper, Le Matin, recently that the new Geneva café would be modeled on similar establishments in Thailand. According to Charvet, the oral sex café would add a new dimension to the sex trade in Geneva.

Basically, what it would all entail is men would walk into the café and order a coffee. While they are waiting the customers will be offered an iPad to select the prostitute they prefer to have perform oral sex on them. The men will then sit and relax at the bar, sip their coffee, and enjoy the ride.

Here is the article, via Todd Kliman.  Alternatively, Barnes & Noble soon will be wining and dining its customers.

Sunday assorted links

by on June 26, 2016 at 3:41 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

In 383, the usurper Magnus Maximus withdrew troops from northern and western Britain, probably leaving local warlords in charge. Around 410, the Romano-British expelled the magistrates of the usurper Constantine III, ostensibly in response to his failures to use the Roman garrison he had stripped from Britain to protect the island. Roman Emperor Honorius replied to a request for assistance with the Rescript of Honorius, telling the Roman cities to see to their own defence, a tacit acceptance of temporary British self-government. Honorius was fighting a large-scale war in Italy against the Visigoths under their leader Alaric, with Rome itself under siege. No forces could be spared to protect distant Britain. Though it is likely that Honorius expected to regain control over the provinces soon, by the mid-500s Procopius recognised that Britannia was entirely lost to the Romans.

That is from Wikipedia on the end of Roman rule in Britain.  I smiled at this sentence, though it does not exactly reflect my view of the current situation:

The Empire’s historical relationship with Germanic tribes was sometimes hostile, at other times cooperative, but ultimately fatal, as it was unable to prevent those tribes from assuming a dominant role in the relationship.

I still think there is a twenty percent chance that the contemporary Brits reverse themselves, starting with inaction and culminating in a new election and referendum.  The EU has to “play nasty” in the meantime, but perhaps they too have heard of the Coase theorem.  Imagine an equilibrium where each EU nation “leaves,” for purposes of expressive voting, and then shortly thereafter re-enters.

British Parliamentarians and Republican Party delegates need to study up on their coordination games quite soon!

After education and occupation, the share of people not holding a passport was the next most strongly correlated characteristic with the Leave vote.

Here is more from John Burn-Murdoch at FT blogs, via Tim Harford.

There was absolute carnage in various markets following the realization of Brexit, and at times massive asset price changes, sometimes ranging from eight to ten percent, were compressed into minutes or hours.

I recall seeing in my Twitter feed that the dollar-pound rate shift was a fourteen-standard deviation event.  That’s not right, and is rather the sign of a bad model, but the point remains that something extraordinary happened.

So far I haven’t read or heard a single account of clearinghouses operating anything but smoothly, as they pretty much did during the various 2008 crashes.  Obviously this success is with central bank liquidity assistance, but still it would be worth studying further one part of the global financial system which seems to be in very good working order and is underpublicized at that.

Saturday assorted links

by on June 25, 2016 at 2:53 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Fish out of water are more common than thought: “New research shows 33 different families of fish have at least one species that demonstrates some terrestrial activity and, in many cases, these behaviors are likely to have evolved independently in the different families.”

2. Can schooling increase IQ and fluid intelligence?

3. Google vs. Apple maps.

4. The Mystery of Millennial politics.

5. “As people get older, they become choosier about how they spend their time and with whom they spend it. Now, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on June 23 find, based on a series of experimental and behavioral studies, that similar changes take place in Barbary macaques.”  Link here.  Is this a theory of Brexit voting?

6. Paul Krugman on Brexit.  Linton Kwesi Johnson on Brexit, sort of, video.  And a region’s recent change in income does not predict its Brexit vote, though income level does to some extent.  And here is Reihan on Brexit as an immigration backlash.

Cornwall has issued an urgent plea for reassurance that it will not be worse off following the Brexit vote.

The county has received a “significant amounts” of funding from the EU for the past 15 years due to its “relatively weak economy”.

But, after 56.5% of voters in the county chose to leave the Union, the council says it is now seeking urgent reassurance that money allocated to it will still be received.

Prior to the vote the Council said they were told by the Leave campaign that funding would still be available.

They also said they had been told Cornwall “would not be worse off” in terms of investment they received.

Here is the link.  Overall the regions most dependent on the EU economically were most likely to vote for Brexit.

This time around the UK was probably hurt somewhat; British stocks are down around 4% as I write. But French and German stocks are down 7% to 8%. The markets in southern Europe are down 10% to 15%. Brexit’s most powerful effect is to make the eurozone crisis worse, by increasing doubts as to whether the eurozone will stay together.

That is from Scott Sumner.  Here is David Beckworth’s analysis, he focuses on the contractionary effects of a strengthening dollar.