Tyler Cowen

Kenya Hathaway, a musician and vocal coach for television shows, has never talked with her husband about celebrity nannies, even in light of the unraveling marriages of the Afflecks and Rossdales.

There is more here, via the sharp-eyed Felix Salmon.  The NYT article is interesting throughout, with many good bits.

Best fiction of 2015

by on November 22, 2015 at 12:55 am in Books | Permalink

I thought it was a stellar year for fiction, even though most of the widely anticipated books by famous authors disappointed me.  These were my favorites, more or less in the order I read them, not in order of preference:

Michel Houellebecq, Soumission/Submission.  The correct reading is always a level deeper than the one you are currently at.

Larry Kramer, The American People.  Epic, reviewed a lot but then oddly overlooked in a crowded year.

The Seventh Day, by Yu Hua.  Perhaps my favorite of all the contemporary Chinese novels I have read: “Lacking the money for a burial plot, he must roam the afterworld aimlessly, without rest.”

Chris Adrian and Eli Horowitz, New World, “An innovative story of love, decapitation, cryogenics, and memory by two of our most creative literary minds.”

Vendela Vida, The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty.  Fun without being trivial.

Elena Ferrante, volume four, The Story of the Lost Child.  See my various posts about her series here, one of the prime literary achievements of the last twenty years.

The Widower, by Mohamed Latiff Mohamed.  My favorite novel from Singapore.

The Meursault Investigation, by Kamel Daoud.  I’ll teach it this coming year in Law and Literature.

Eka Kurniawan, Beauty is a Wound.  It’s been called the Garcia Marquez of Indonesia, and it is one of the country’s classic novels, newly translated into English.  Here is a good NYT review.

Nnedi Okorafor, Binti.  Okorafor is American but born to two Nigerian parents, this science fiction novella is creative and fun to read.  Ursula K. Le Guin likes her too.

Of those, Houllebecq and Ferrante are the must-reads, the others are all strong entries, with New World being perhaps the indulgence pick but indulgences are good, right?

And here are three other new books/editions/translations which I haven’t had any chance to spend time with, but come as self-recommending:

The Poems of T.S. Eliot, volume 1 and volume 2, annotated.  Rave reviews for those.

Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu, translated by Dennis Washburn.

Homer’s Iliad, translated by Peter Green.  Also gets rave reviews.

*The Iran-Iraq War*

by on November 21, 2015 at 3:03 pm in Books, Current Affairs, History | Permalink

Oddly this war isn’t discussed much any more, even though it is arguably the breakthrough event for the ongoing collapse of parts of the Middle East.  And by many metrics it was the worst and most brutal war since WWII, with the Congo clashes in the running too.

I found Pierre Razoux’s The Iran-Iraq War to be a highly readable and useful account, translated from the French, Harvard Belknap Press.  I can’t judge the details of the substance, but I never had the feeling it was overreaching or implausible.  Here is one quick excerpt, of relevance to contemporary events:

For his part, Hafez al-Assad saw Saddam Hussein as an even more ruthless rival now that he supported the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.  The moment hostilities broke out between Iran and Iraq,Assad decided to provide military assistance to Teheran…Syria also provided Iran with numerous pharmaceutical and food products and allowed it to deploy several hundred Pasdaran in London.  This gave Irana foothold in the land of the Cedar, allowing it access to the Mediterranean and an opportunity tighten its grip on the Lebanese Shiite community.


Saturday assorted links

by on November 21, 2015 at 12:39 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Is there hope for America in men’s tennis?

2. Mary Gaitskill by the book.  I am enjoying her new novel The Mare.

3. Hardball questions for the next debate.  And Corey Robin on Woodrow Wilson.

4. American landlords seem to prefer refugee tenants.

5. 13 women who transformed the world of economics.

6. How breweries survived the age of Prohibition (pdf, job market paper from UCLA).

7. Why recent productivity growth is taking a scary form, shedding inputs rather than increasing outputs.

Perusing job market papers

by on November 21, 2015 at 2:14 am in Economics, Education, Science | Permalink

GMU isn’t hiring this year, but I still enjoy going through the job market candidates to see what is new in the profession.  I’ll be blogging a few of the more interesting pieces I found, in the meantime here are some summary remarks from my investigations.  Keep in mind these are highly subjective impressions for the most part:

1. MIT students had the most interesting papers overall, Harvard second.

2. Job market papers seem to be getting longer.  I was surprised how many 60-90 pp. papers I saw.

3. The concentrated distribution of students among a few advisors, within a department, seems to be increasing.

4. There are plenty of good but not interesting to me papers on economic development going around.  The “dairy farmers in Kenya” sort of paper, fine work of high quality, but I look for something more general to read and report on.

5. Industrial Organization continues to be a mostly boring field.  Development economics and health care economics are still “in.”  There are a variety of good papers on financial intermediation.

6. There are hardly any theory papers coming out of the top schools.

7. The differences in student quality, within a department, seem to be narrowing.

8. Harvard economics has the best and easiest to use web site for their job market candidates, some other very good schools still have very low quality web sites.

Even during demand-driven recessions.  Part of the problem is that cyclical and structural causes of unemployment interact and magnify each other.  Here is the job market paper of Pascual Restrepo, one of the stars from MIT currently on the job market.  I turn the floor over to him:

To study the effect of structural change on labor markets, I build a model in which structural change creates a mismatch between novel jobs skill requirements and workers’ current skills. When the mismatch is severe, labor markets go through a prolonged adjustment process wherein unemployment is amplified and job creation is low. Due to matching frictions, firms find less workers with the requisite skills for novel jobs and they respond by creating fewer jobs. The paucity of novel jobs creates an external amplification effect that increases unemployment for all workers—including those who already hold the requisite skills—and discourages rapid skill acquisition by workers. Structural change is not only a secular process; it also interacts with the business cycle, causing a large and long-lasting increase in unemployment that concentrates in recessions. I demonstrate that the decline in routine-cognitive jobs outside manufacturing—a pervasive structural change that has affected U.S. labor markets since 2000—caused a severe skill mismatch that contributed to the long-lasting increase in unemployment observed during the Great Recession. My evidence suggests that this external amplification effect is important. Moreover, I find that the skill mismatch amplified and propagated demand shocks at the local labor market level.

How many times during the last five years have I read or heard critiques of structural theories which neglect their more sophisticated forms?  (“What, did everyone in 2008 simply forget…?” etc.  Be very suspicious of the structure of that argument.)

Here are two other interesting papers by Restrepo, including one on how to share income with the robots, co-authored with Acemoglu.  I agree with their conclusion: “We find that inequality increases during transitions, but the self-correcting forces of the economy limit the increase in inequality over longer periods.”

This bit is from the Q&A session:

LS: So, I guess I think there is both a, you know, Keynes as usual I think was pretty smart and you know, Keynes began his essay on economic possibilities for our grandchildren by saying that there was this really pressing cyclical problem that had to do with demand which was really important but not all that profoundly fundamental. And there was this more fundamental thing which was that technology was marching on and he thought the dis-employment effects would show up as everybody working 15 hour weeks. And it doesn’t look like that’s quite what they’re showing up as. But the basic idea that technological progress comes with reduced labor input, sometimes it’s early retirement, sometimes it’s people who aren’t able to get themselves employed, sometimes, it’s lower hours, but that is basically the story of the last 150 years.

So, I would not back off of my putting a lot of weight on technology as something important here.

The talk and dialogue (pdf) are on macro more generally, interesting throughout.  In general I believe there should be more transcribed and summarized dialogues, both the NBER and Brookings have had intellectual success with that format.

China prediction of the day

by on November 20, 2015 at 2:58 pm in Current Affairs, Economics | Permalink

While the total amount of debt issued to pay interest is projected by Hua Chuang Securities to increase, it’s taking up a smaller portion of overall new credit. The firm predicts such borrowing will account for 45 percent of new total social financing — which includes bank loans, shadow banking credit and corporate bonds — down from 50 percent last year, according to a Nov. 4 report.

Well…it’s falling.  I guess that’s good news…sort of…

That is from Bloomberg News, via HaidiLun and Christopher Balding.

Friday assorted links

by on November 20, 2015 at 11:20 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Arnold Kling’s books of the year.  And Scott Sumner outlines his forthcoming book on the Great Depression.

2. “Arguably the least appreciated resource for Islamic State is its fertile farms.” (noisy video at that link, sorry, but the content is interesting)

3. Historical estimates of Chinese gdp.  And where in the world is the greatest economic exposure to China?

4. Who says education is just signaling?  Only bird brains?

5. “Some teams are accusing other teams of cheating, but there’s no cheating because there’s no rules,” (the culture that is curling).

6. Clickhole does the great stagnation.

7. Do welfare programs make people lazy?

With the elimination of mandatory retirement, the average age of college and university faculty members has increased. While this has raised some concerns, relatively little research has tried to measure the impact of this aging on productivity inside the classroom. Using data from the RateMyProfessors.com website for a large sample of instructors in a broad cross-section of colleges and universities, we find that age does affect teaching effectiveness, at least as perceived by students. Age has a negative impact on student ratings of faculty members that is robust across genders, groups of academic disciplines and types of institutions. However, the effect does not begin until faculty members reach their mid-forties and does not seem to increase even when they reach the former retirement ages of 65 or 70. Moreover, the quantitative impact of age on student ratings is small and can be offset by other factors, especially the physical appearance of professors and how easy students consider them to be. When we restrict our sample to those professors deemed hot by student raters, the effect of age disappears completely. We conclude that ending mandatory retirement has had little impact on student perceptions of faculty quality.

That is from a new paper by Rovbert J. Stonebreaker and Gary S. Stone, via Kevin Lewis.

UnitedHealth may exit the provision of ACA plans:

The nation’s largest health insurance provider, UnitedHealth Group, dealt a blow to the Affordable Care Act on Thursday when it warned it may stop offering coverage to individuals through public exchanges after taking a big hit to the bottom line from disappointing enrollment and the law’s unexpected effects.

The insurer’s withdrawal from the Obamacare exchanges would force some 540,000 Americans to find coverage from another provider.

UnitedHealth (UNH) downgraded its earnings forecast, bemoaning low growth projections for Obamacare enrollment and blaming the federal health care law for giving individuals too much flexibility to change plans.

People who purchase insurance through the public exchanges are typically heavy users of their plans, draining insurers’ profits, analysts say.

In a sharp reversal of its previously optimistic projections, UnitedHealth suspended marketing of its Obamacare exchange plans for 2016 — which the company has already committed to offer — to limit its exposure to additional losses.

“We see no data pointing to improvement” in the financial performance of public-exchange plans, UnitedHealth CEO Stephen Hemsley said on a conference call, though he added that “we remain hopeful” the market will recover.

The move comes amid indications that insurers are absorbing steeper costs than they expected from plans offered to individuals through the public exchanges, which are purchased online.

The average premium for medium-benefit plans offered to 40-year-old non-smokers is set to rise 10.1% in 2016, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

…Even though UnitedHealth wasn’t a major player yet on the ACA exchanges, the fact that it priced plans conservatively and entered cautiously made its statements more significant, said Katherine Hempstead, who heads the insurance coverage team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“If they can’t make money on the exchanges, it seems it would be hard for anyone,” Hempstead said.

But that is not all the news.  There is also:

In many Obamacare markets, renewal is not an option

Shopping for health insurance is the new seasonal stress for many

Health care law forces business to consider growth’s costs

Many say their high deductibles make their health insurance all but useless

and my own Obamacare not as egalitarian as it appears

All five are from the NYT, the first three being from the last two or three days, the other two from last week.  They are not articles from The Weekly Standard

To put it bluntly, I don’t think the mandate part of the bill is working.  These are mostly problems which decay and get worse, not problems which self-correct.

On UnitedHealth, here is commentary from Megan McArdle.  Here is Bob LaszewskiHere is Vox.

Between 1989 and 2010, U.S. attorneys seized an estimated $12.6 billion in asset forfeiture cases. The growth rate during that time averaged +19.4% annually. In 2010 alone, the value of assets seized grew by +52.8% from 2009 and was six times greater than the total for 1989. Then by 2014, that number had ballooned to roughly $4.5 billion for the year, making this 35% of the entire number of assets collected from 1989 to 2010 in a single year. According to the FBI, the total amount of goods stolen by criminals in 2014 burglary offenses suffered an estimated $3.9 billion in property losses. This means that the police are now taking more assets than the criminals [emphasis added].

That is from Martin Armstrong, via Noah Smith and Michael Hendrix.  While private sector robberies are underreported by a considerable amount, this is nonetheless a startling contrast.

Can this be true?

Thursday assorted links

by on November 19, 2015 at 12:09 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Glenn Loury on the recent troubles at Brown.  And should Princeton still use the Woodrow Wilson name?

2. Henry Rowen, economist and former head of Rand, has passed away.

3. A deaf couple discuss their marriage.

4. There is no great ketchup stagnation.

5. Intergenerational mobility in the Great Depression (pdf).

6. John Cassidy on the economics of Syrian refugees.

This sounds like a combination of a David Brooks column and a Robin Hanson blog post, and what could be better than that?:

Surprisingly, the most effective leaders did not have the highest level of self-awareness. Indeed, the more they underrated themselves, the more highly they were perceived as leaders. We assume this is caused by a combination of humility, high personal standards, and a continual striving to be better.

That is from Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, via the excellent Samir Varma.

From the ubiquity of media reference to them, one might suppose that Sir Mark Sykes and Georges Picot were the only actors of consequence on the Ottoman theater in the First World War, and Britain and France the only relevant parties to the disposition of Ottoman territory, reaching agreement on the subject in (so Google or Wikipedia informs us) anno domini 1916…

It is a seductive story, simple,compact, elegant, and easy to understand.  But the Claude Rains summary of Sykes-Picot bears little resemblance to the history on which it is ostensibly based.  The partition of the Ottoman Empire was not settled bilaterally by two British and French diplomats in 1916, but rather at a multinational peace conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1923, following a conflict that had lasted nearly twelve years going back to the Italian invasion of Ottoman Tripoli (Libya) in 1911 and the two Balkan Wars of 1912-13.  Neither Sykes nor Picot played any role worth mentioning at Lausanne, at which the dominant figure looming over the proceedings was Mustafa Kemal, the Turkish nationalist…Even in 1916, the year ostensibly defined for the ages by their secret partition agreement, Sykes and Picot played second and third fiddle, respectively, to a Russian foreign minister, Sergei Sazonov, who was the real driving force behind the carve-up of the Ottoman Empire, a Russian project par excellence, and recognized as such by the British and French when they were first asked to sign off on Russian partition plans as early as March-April 1915.

That is from the new and interesting The Ottoman Endgame: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Modern Middle East, 1908-1923, by Sean McMeekin.

Here is a NYRoB Malise Ruthven piece on Sykes-Picot.