Tyler Cowen


That is nominal rates of change, and that is from Pedro Nicolaci da Costa.

To be clear, I am a non-believer, but it is often worth trying to figure out versions of alternative views.

I am struck by those believers who find the “multiverse” or “we live in a simulation” to be absurd positions, presumably in their minds more absurd than theism.

My thoughts wander back to David Hume’s classic discussion of stumbling upon a watch in the wilderness.  Is it a “strange” watch?  We have an answer to this question only because we’ve already seen other watches.  We cannot with similar facility judge whether this is a “strange” universe/multiverse, nor can we readily judge a particular origin story for that universe as strange, or not.  We have no point of comparison, and furthermore I am not sure we can appeal to the physical laws that operate inside of this universe.

To many people, the branching multiverse seems bizarre, but “steady state matter” theories do not (even if they are false).  I am suggesting that distinction cannot be upheld.  You haven’t seen a multiverse in Cleveland before, and so you scratch your head and call that science fiction.  But you have seen stuff just sitting around on the sofa.  I submit that is a cosmological bias, not the grounds for an insight into origin stories.

If we cannot judge the strangeness of the universe, or judge the strangeness of an origin story for the universe, that is itself strange.  So we are always in the realm of the strange, it seems.

One major objection to theism is already taken off the table, namely the view of many non-believers that it is somehow absurd, mystical, Santa Claus-like, and so on.

So it’s “strangeness all the way down.”

What then is the most focal “strange” view on origins that we have?

To be sure, you might side against “focality” as a standard for choosing amongst very strange views about origins.  But now it seems we are on a turf where all kinds of doctrines stand a fighting chance.

We quantify the amount of spatial misallocation of labor across US cities and its aggregate costs. Misallocation arises because high productivity cities like New York and the San Francisco Bay Area have adopted stringent restrictions to new housing supply, effectively limiting the number of workers who have access to such high productivity. Using a spatial equilibrium model and data from 220 metropolitan areas we find that these constraints lowered aggregate US growth by more than 50% from 1964 to 2009.

Here is the pdf, via the excellent LondonYIMBY.  Here is a related estimate from two days ago.

Saturday assorted links

by on May 20, 2017 at 1:47 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

For $49.99, patrons can “sip their coffee while seated at bistro-style tables, nicely draped with red and white gingham tablecloths… all while being surrounded by rats.” The price includes all-you-can-drink coffee, tea, water and pastries, along with admission to the dungeon. (Don’t forget the 15 minutes of rat interaction!)

Here is the link, via the excellent Samir Varma.

I will be doing a Conversations with Tyler with him, June 14, Arlington, 6:30 p.m., register here.

Here is Wikipedia on Ben Sasse.  In addition to being a Senator from Nebraska, he has extensive experience in government, was an assistant professor, president of Midland University, and he has a Ph.d. in history from Yale University, with a prize-winning dissertation on religious liberty and the origins of the conservative movement as it relates to the battle over school prayer.  He also now has the #1 best-selling book, on raising kids.

Just to be clear, I will not be making what you might call “very current events” the focus of this discussion.  So what should I ask him?

Update: rsvp link corrected.

Texas: Ranked, Trailer, Soldiers, Sergeant, Bunk, Arena, Evidently, Altar, Alley, Captain.

New York: Subway, Popsicle, Senator, Butthole, Museum, Landlord, Sin, Jacuzzi, Thrusted, Shrugs.

That is from the new and excellent Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve, by Ben Blatt.  Here is my earlier post on the book.

Paul Krugman blogged on that, with initial impetus from Noah Smith.  Here is Noah:

If you and your buddies have a political argument, a vast literature can help you defend your argument even if it’s filled with vague theory, sloppy bad empirics, arguments from authority, and other crap. If someone smart comes along and tries to tell you you’re wrong about something, just demand huffily that she go read the vast literature before she presumes to get involved in the debate. Chances are she’ll just quit the argument and go home, unwilling to pay the effort cost of wading through dozens of crappy papers. And if she persists in the argument without reading the vast literature, you can just denounce her as uninformed and willfully ignorant. Even if she does decide to pay the cost and read the crappy vast literature, you have extra time to make your arguments while she’s so occupied. And you can also bog her down in arguments over the minute details of this or that crappy paper while you continue to advance your overall thesis to the masses.

…My solution to this problem is what I call the Two Paper Rule. If you want me to read the vast literature, cite me two papers that are exemplars and paragons of that literature. Foundational papers, key recent innovations – whatever you like (but no review papers or summaries). Just two. I will read them.

If these two papers are full of mistakes and bad reasoning, I will feel free to skip the rest of the vast literature. Because if that’s the best you can do, I’ve seen enough.

Those are both interesting posts, but my perspective is different, probably more as a matter of temperament than thinking they are objectively wrong.  Here are a few comments:

1. The best two papers on ethics are not very convincing.  Nonetheless people who have worked their way through a good amount of that literature are much better at ethical reasoning than those who have not.

2. The best two papers on global warming are not very convincing.  What is convincing is how many different perspectives and how many different branches of science point toward broadly similar conclusions.  In fact the aggregate effect here is quite overwhelming (don’t debate gw in the comments, not today; I’ll delete).  It is a question of many moats, not all of them being entirely muddy.

3. I see the Smith-Krugman standard as fairly economistic, and fairly MIT-late 20th century at that.  It is one vision of what a good literature looks like, and a fairly narrow one.  It will elevate simple answers in status, whether or not that is deserved.  It discriminates against dialogic knowledge, book-based knowledge, historical knowledge, and knowledge when the answers and methods are not very exact.  There is the risk of ending up too certain about one’s knowledge.

That all said, I do understand that specialized top researchers, including Nobel Laureates, often may do better holding relatively narrow methodological visions.  Look at all the Nobel Prizes that have been awarded to Chicago.  It might be entirely correct to insist that Becker’s treatise on the family pay more attention to anthropology, but that doesn’t mean he should have followed that advicee.

4. The standard seems to discourage reading, and I would not want to teach it to my students.  I teach something more like “always read more, unless you are writing or doing relevant quantitative work.  And one reason you write is to improve the quality of your reading.  Read more and write more, all the time.”  I still think that is better advice for most (not all) people.

5. Isn’t there a lot to be said for deferring to the opinions of those who have read through the “muddy moat”?  By no means are they all partisans, and the non-partisan ones care most of all about the truth.  After all, they did all that reading!  Defer, rather than trust so much in your ability to pick you the right two papers, or have someone pick them out for you.  I have a much more positive view of survey articles than does Noah, while understanding they do often leave you fairly agnostic on major issues.

6. If the truth of the matter is in fact muddy, you may need to dip into the muddy moat to learn that.

7. The difference between total value and marginal value may be relevant.  You might conclude a field literature has low total value, but the marginal value of learning more about that area still could be quite high.  That is in part because muddy fields and results don’t spread so readily, and so dipping into the muck can yield some revelations.  That is another reason why I would not offer the “two paper standard” as practical advice.

8. If anything, I would put the reading pressure on the other side, namely more rather than less.  Rather than encouraging readers to dismiss or downgrade fields, I would urge them to consult different disciplines altogether, including political science, sociology, and anthropology, others too.  This is much easier to do if you take a more positive attitude toward survey articles.

9. This is quite a subjective impression, but I worry that the dogmatic will use the two paper standard to dismiss or downgrade particular lines of investigation.

10. I don’t know if Noah and Paul were referring to my colleague Garett Jones, who frequently tweets “…if only there were a vast empirical literature” when he sees claims that he regards as empirically false.  Now, I am not the Garett Jones oracle, but I always took his use of the word “vast” to be slightly sarcastic.  Usually these are cases where even a fairly cursory knowledge of the literature in question would indicate something is wrong with the claim at hand.  In my view, Garett is not demanding “vastness” of effort, rather he is criticizing those who don’t grasp what the effort space looks like in the first place.

I calibrate the [spatial] model to the U.S. economy and find that the rise in regulation accounts for 23% of the increase in wage dispersion and 85% of the increase in house price dispersion across metro areas from 1980 to 2007. I find that if regulation had not increased, more workers would live in productive areas and output would be 2% higher. I also show that policy interventions that weaken incentives of local governments to restrict supply could reduce wage and house price dispersion, and boost productivity.

That is from Andrii Parkhomenko (pdf), a recent job candidate, there are 62 pp. at the link, and for the pointer I thank Tyler Ransom.

Here is a related column by Noah Smith.

Thursday assorted links

by on May 18, 2017 at 11:52 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

Sentences to ponder

by on May 18, 2017 at 3:17 am in Current Affairs | Permalink

National Security Council officials have strategically included Trump’s name in “as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he’s mentioned,” according to one source, who relayed conversations he had with NSC officials.

This second bit I am fully in accord with:

Trump likes to look at a map of the country involved when he learns about a topic.

Here is the Reuters article, via Brad Jaffy and Brendan Nyhan.

That title made me think of the woodchuck…anyway, here is the abstract:

Fact-checking has gained prominence as a reformist movement to revitalize truth-seeking ideals in journalism. While fact-checkers are often assumed to code facts accurately, no studies have formally assessed fact-checkers’ performance. I evaluate the performance of two major online fact-checkers, Politfact at Tampa Bay Times and Fact Checker at Washington Post, comparing their interrater reliability using a method that is regularly utilized across the social sciences. I show that fact-checkers rarely fact-check the same statement, and when they do, there is little agreement in their ratings. Approximately, 1 in 10 statements is fact-checked by both fact-checking outlets, and among claims that both outlets check, their factual ratings have a Cohen’s κ of 0.52, an agreement rate much lower than what is acceptable for social scientific coding. The results suggest that difficulties in fact-checking elites’ statements may limit the ability of journalistic fact-checking to hold politicians accountable.

That paper (pdf) is by Chloe Lim, political science at Stanford.  For the pointer I thank Andrew Hall, some interesting political science papers on his home page.  Here is his very interesting book manuscript on how the devaluing of political offices drives polarization, worthy of a top publisher…

Wednesday assorted links

by on May 17, 2017 at 1:48 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

Vix is up 16% today, a sign that a Trump presidency is now seen as having a much more uncertain future.  I agree with Charles Cooke that the 25th amendment is not really an option, nonetheless investigations will be proceeding, with the FBI and many Republicans not really on Trump’s side.  It is not obvious that Trump will handle himself well during that process.  The chances for tax and health care reform are dwindling.  Many Republican leaders are pondering the logic of Timur Kuran, namely when they should flip out of their preference falsification and state their real views.

I think also that Trump’s instructions to Comey to halt the Flynn prosecution are significant.  I view much of the press coverage as overstated or sometimes even hysterical, including for the Russia leaks, but the Comey business fits into the category of “impeachable offense.”  A normal president would not be impeached for it, but Trump is not a normal president.  The instructions to Comey would not be the actual reason he would be impeached, but they create a path along which an impeachment inquiry could proceed, nudged along by other “non-impeachable but unpopular and objectionable actions” Trump might take in the meantime, and what information might be revealed in the meantime.  There are many shoes yet to drop.  So my estimate of the chances of a Trump impeachment or resignation have gone up from about 5% to about 25%, in less than a two-day span.

Addendum: Do consider the remarks of Philip Wallach.

Hemingway: 80

Twain: 81

Melville: 126

Austen: 128

J.K. Rowling: 140

E L James: 155

That is from the new and interesting Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve, by Ben Blatt.  The Hemingway book with the highest usage rate for -ly adverbs, True at First Light, was released only after his death and is considered one of his worst works.  The same pattern is true for Faulkner and Steinbeck, namely that the most highly praised works have relatively low rates of -ly adverb usage.  Among other notable authors surveyed, D.H. Lawrence seems to be the most obvious exception to this regularity.

In the novel The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien used the word “she” only once.  In The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, however, she relative to he is used 79% of the time, the highest ratio of the classics surveyed.  Female authors are very strongly represented on that side of the curve, let me tell you.  And male authors do the “he” far more, in relative terms, than female authors do the “she.”

You also will learn from this book that David Brooks starts more sentences with “The” than any other word, whereas for Paul Krugman that place of honor goes to “But.”  And, for better or worse, Krugman uses far less anaphora.

D.H. Lawrence leads for the number of animal similes.