Tyler Cowen

The tweet subtitle they gave my latest Bloomberg column:

Reading articles from other perspectives isn’t enough.  Try writing one.

My final tag line:

We all need to worry about our own growing grumpiness.

Tuesday assorted links

by on January 24, 2017 at 1:45 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is only part of the argument, this one you really do need to read the whole thing (and carefully):

Trump’s supporters are indeed correct to point out that previous administrations also told many lies, albeit of a different sort. Imagine, for instance, that mistruths come in different forms: higher-status mistruths and lower-status mistruths. The high-status mistruths are like those we associate with ambassadors and diplomats. The ambassador is reluctant to tell a refutable, flat-out lie of the sort that could cause embarrassment, but if all you ever heard were the proclamations of the ambassador, you wouldn’t have a good grasp of the realities of the situation. Ambassadors typically are speaking to more than one audience at once, a lot of context is required to glean the actual meaning, and if they are interpreted in a strictly literal manner (a mistake) it is easy enough to find lots of misdirection in their words. Most of all, ambassadors just won’t voice a lot of sensitive truths.

Arguably those diplomatic proclamations are not lies, but they do bear quite an indirect relationship to the blunt, bare truth. Ambassadors and diplomats behave this way because they seek maximum flexibility in maintaining delicate coalitions of support over the longer run. And indeed it is correct to think of every incoming (and ongoing) administration of doing lots of “lying” — if that is the right word — of this sort.

These higher-status lies are not Trump’s style, and thus many of his supporters, with some justification, see him as a man willing to voice important truths. If Trump’s opponents don’t understand that reality, and the sociological differences between various kinds of misdirection, they are going to underestimate his appeal and self-righteously underestimate how much they are themselves mistrusted by the public.

Again, link here.

Mike Lee says yes, see also Matt.  Maybe, I would like to go this route, but I’m not (yet?) convinced.  What if non-profits and foreign companies end up as the shareholders, as indeed the Coase theorem would seem to indicate?  Doesn’t that lower tax revenue because they wouldn’t be making capital gains filings?  And to some extent, isn’t the U.S. tax system then encouraging inefficient ownership and governance?

There may be an answer to this worry, but I’ve yet to see it.

That is a request from an MR reader.  Getting past the “because I am weird” answer, I will offer a few observations:

1. I think my view, or broadly speaking some version of it, is in fact pretty popular,though far from dominant.

2. The eating and dining of many people is geared toward socializing and also drinking.  So when I write “go where the diners look grim, not smiling and happy,” or “avoid the beautiful women and the riverfront views,” many people don’t listen.  They like beautiful women, too much perhaps, and they like being surrounded by smiling others.  I have more of a single-minded obsession on the food, at least when I am seeking food.  So you can think of my methods as a form of extreme compartmentalization and unbundling of quests.

Of course there may be other methods related to beautiful women, and yes you should hold a diverse portfolio of methods, so think of me as someone who is suspicious of “method-blending,” as instead I prefer an intertemporal substitution of methods for different goals.  The time for food is a time for food, not for pursuing some weighted average of goals summed into a mediocre total, “…and a time to every purpose under heaven.”  Call it the Ecclesiastes approach.  Ultimately this may involve preferring a certain kind of focus over indiscriminate attention-switching.

NB: This hypothesis also may imply that those who are good at intertemporal substitution may miss out on some of life’s integrative experiences, such as riding a bicycle along a bridge with the wind blowing in your hair; “intertemporal substitution” and “integration” may in some ways stand in tension, and perhaps developing a propensity for one limits our ability to engage in the other.

3. My dining methods are in fact wonderful for socializing, but only if you are with either a) the oblivious, b) those who lexically prefer food quality, or c) those who enjoy talking analytically about food.  Most of my friends fall into one of these categories, but that is not the case for most people.

San Francisco, population 865,000, has roughly the same number of dogs as children: 120,000. In many areas of the city, pet grooming shops seem more common than schools.

There is also this:

San Francisco’s public school system has around 53,000 students, a sharp drop from 90,000 in 1970.

The decline is a reflection both of families leaving the city and wealthier parents sending their children to private schools. Around 30 percent of San Francisco children attend private school, the highest rate among large American cities.

More than 10 private schools have opened in San Francisco since 2009, according to a tally by Elizabeth Weise, a journalist who writes a blog on the subject.

What percentage of those people also support the idea of further experimentation with school vouchers?  And do they require proof that private schools will raise their children’s test scores, before becoming emotionally committed to sending them there?

That is from Thomas Fuller at the NYT.  You will note that some angles in that article may require revision, here is a good comment from Medium.

Monday assorted links

by on January 23, 2017 at 12:55 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

J., a loyal MR reader, asked me for a post on “proliferation and separately nuclear exchange (war).”

Let’s try the latter.  Every now and then I ask myself what is the most likely use of nuclear weapons, putting aside dirty bombs from terrorists and the like.

My first pick is a scenario where North Korea bombs a Japanese city, perhaps Hiroshima or Nagasaki.  Imagine a North Korean regime in the throes of desperation, actually somewhat rational, and playing a mixed strategy with some probability of nuclear weapons use.  Say the bluff is called and they feel a need to make a statement.  I don’t think they would bomb their brethren in South Korea, nor would they opt for China, which could crush them like a bug.  Japan, still perceived as a historic enemy by the way, is the obvious target.  It’s close enough to reach, and they don’t have nuclear weapons of their own.  Tokyo however must be held in reserve as a target, so Hiroshima or Nagasaki it would be.  “Just big enough to send a message” — sound familiar?

My second pick is a scenario where the United States and China are fighting a naval battle in the South China Sea, or perhaps further north, as part of a limited exchange, not a full war.  The United States is about to win the battle, and the Chinese leadership fears a military or other Party-based coup in response.  So they use nuclear weapons, perhaps tactical nukes, to turn the tide in the battle and save their skins.  They figure the U.S. won’t respond with a full-blown nuclear war.  (America, if it lost a comparable naval battle, is more likely to just turn tail and run, at least in the short run.)

Fortunately, the chances of either of these events are quite low.  Unfortunately, the chances are also rising somewhat.

There is more noise as of late coming from the India vs. Pakistan side (Pakistan threatening to use nukes to respond to a ground invasion, plus Pakistan having a nuclear submarine), but I don’t see actual evidence that the chance of nuclear war there has gone up.  It has to make the list, but it’s not one of my top two scenarios.

My core model, by the way, is that political leaders are rational in the loose sense.  So if you are looking for instances of possible nuclear weapons use, consider cases where politicians might be facing relatively dramatic “career-ending” events if they lose a smaller-level struggle.

Sunday assorted links

by on January 22, 2017 at 1:42 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. The culture that is Dutch first all-avocado restaurant to open in Amsterdam.

2. New blog, Political Arithmetick, high quality on economic stats and their meaning, by Brent Moulton.

3. “One of the Obama administration’s signature efforts in education, which pumped billions of federal dollars into overhauling the nation’s worst schools, failed to produce meaningful results, according to a federal analysis.”  Link here.  In 2003 I wrote that vouchers are overrated, but now they are definitely underrated.

4. Econofact.org.

5. Japan’s real Westworld theme park, now defunct, based on the 1973 movie, via Yana.

6. New Dani Rodrik paper on global vs. national inequalities (pdf).

That was my prediction in my forthcoming book The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream, but I didn’t realize it would come true on such a scale so soon.  Yesterday we saw the largest protests in American history.  Here is one excerpt passage from the book, part of a section describing how different the past was from what we had grown used to:

As much as nonviolence was an essential feature of big parts of the civil rights movement, many blacks in the South, including many of the most prominent movement leaders, protected themselves with firearms, in recognition of what a violent and vindictive time they were operating in. Martin Luther King Jr. kept a gun at home and sometimes relied on neighbors to protect his home with firearms. Medgar Evers traveled with a rifle in his car and kept a pistol beside himself on the front seat; Evers later ended up being murdered.

Almost impossible to imagine in today’s climate of overprotective parenting, the civil rights movement even saw parents willing to put their children in the line of fire. The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March paraded large numbers of African American children in front of potentially hostile armed police, police dogs, and also angry local, racist crowds. The worst-case scenario of violence against the children did not come about, but even the relatively calm course of the demonstration makes for harrowing reading today. This is from one newspaper report of the time: “The teen-agers, most of them 13 to 16, kept moving. Then the water hit them. Cowering first with hands over their heads, then on their knees or clinging together with their arms around each other, they tried to hold their ground.” It’s hard to imagine that being considered an acceptable course of action—from the marchers as well as the police—for the last few decades. Fortunately, at the time the police did hesitate to turn the fire hoses on the six-year-olds who participated in the march. And many African Americans were upset with their leaders for allowing it to proceed in this manner, yet it did, which is a reflection of how far that time was from the current safety-first mentality.

One of the major claims in the book is that history is more cyclical than we had thought during the 1948-2009 period, and that this is a major source of systematic risk in the world today.  Another major claim is that individual attempts to make one’s lot in life safer and more secure actually may exacerbate broader risks at the macro level.

Again, if you pre-order the book in the next two weeks, I will send along to you a copy of my Stubborn Attachments, the book in my life I have worked on longest, on the philosophic foundations of a free society.  Just email me and I’ll be back in touch.

complacentclassphotocover

Here is a Barnes & Nobel pre-order link, here you can pre-order special signed copies.

Written by John Ferejohn and Frances McCall Rosenbluth, with the subtitle War, Peace, and the Democratic Bargain, this is a very important book.  Here is the main thesis:

If the modern democratic republic is a product of wars that required both manpower and money for success, it is time to take stock of what happens to democracy once the forces that brought it into being are no longer present.  Understanding war’s role in the creation of the modern democratic republic can help us recognize democracy’s exposed flanks.  If the role of the masses in protecting the nation-state diminishes, will the cross-class coalition between political inclusiveness and property hold?

…a second question is what is to become of the swaths of the world that were off the warpath in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries when the European state was formed?  Continued and intense warfare forged democracies with full enfranchisement and protected property rights in the Goldilocks zone: in countries that had already developed administrative capacity as monarchies, and where wars were horrendous but manageable with full mobilization…

The bad news is that in today’s world, war has stopped functioning as a democratizing force.

You can order the book here, here is the Rosa Brooks WSJ review.

TrumpSingles.com is a matchmaking site where supporters of President-elect Donald Trump can connect and possibly find love.

During an appearance on “Fox & Friends,” the site’s founder said TrumpSingles helps supporters navigate a divisive year.

“Sometimes it’s tough to date when you’re a Trump supporter, so we’re making it easier to find each other, who are like-minded and have the same political views,” said David Goss, the 35-year-old Californian who launched the site in June.

TrumpSingles, which costs $19.95 per month, had 24,000 members as of Wednesday afternoon.

Here is the link, via Brent.

Saturday assorted links

by on January 21, 2017 at 1:37 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

An MR reader sends me this request:

You land in a new city – an urban area – without other commitments.
What’s the first thing you do?
What’s your first day look like?

The first thing I do is make sure blog is ready for the day to come (though that is usually pre-arranged if I am traveling).

The second thing I do is decide whether the country is worth wasting a meal on breakfast.  I might just skip it.  If not, the next thing I will do is get breakfast.  I evaluate breakfast options by walking and by sight, not by using the internet, as I find that old-fashioned method better training for all that life brings us.

Then I try to walk through at least two neighborhoods, to get a general sense of the city.  More importantly, I can then later take some time over lunch without feeling I haven’t seen anything yet.  These neighborhoods should be connected to the main drag in some way but not the main drag itself.  The main drag is often boring, though essential, and it is more likely to get a fuller treatment on day two, with only a quick peek on day one.

The best art museum will come after lunch, and then be followed by more neighborhood walking, perhaps in a more distant part of the city.  A major food market will come on day two, a vista or city lookout will come on day three.  It means less if I go to either right away, because I have less information about what I should be noticing and looking for.

The real question is what to postpone, not what to do.  Don’t attempt the most fully integrative experiences right off the bat, because you are squandering some of their potency.

Shenzhen, a city in southern China known for electronics manufacturing, stood out last year, completing 11 such skyscrapers. That’s more than the US and Australia combined. The city was also China’s hottest real estate market last year.

Next was Chongqing, noted for its fast GDP growth (link in Chinese), and Guangzhou, which completed a new finance center with 111 stories and especially fast elevators.

There is much more information at the link.