Tyler Cowen

Best movies of 2016

by on December 2, 2016 at 12:29 am in Film | Permalink

45 Years, British drama about a creaky marriage.

The Boy & the World.  A Brazilian animated movie, it actually fits the cliche “unlike any movie you’ve seen before.”  Preview here, other links here, good for niños but not only.  Excellent soundtrack by Nana Vasconcelos.

The Second Mother.  A Brazilian comedy of manners about social and economic inequality, as reflected in the relations between a maid, her visiting daughter, and the maid’s employer family.  Now, to my and maybe your ears that sounds like poison, because “X is about inequality” correlates strongly with “X is not very good,” I am sorry to say.  This movie is the exception, subtle throughout, and you can watch and enjoy it from any political point of view.  It helps to know a bit about Brazil, and it takes about twenty minutes for the core plot to get off the ground.  Links here.

Cemetery of Splendor, Thai movie by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, here is a good review.

City of Gold, a documentary with Jonathan Gold doing the ethnic food thing in Los Angeles.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is an original movie, mostly about race, full of cinematic allusions (LOTR, First Blood, Smash Palace, classic Westerns, Butch Cassidy, Thelma and Louise, so many more) and Kiwi finery as well.  None of the reviews I read seem to get it and I don’t want to send you to any of them.

The Innocents, how did those Polish nuns get pregnant?

Maggie’s Plan, a fun comedy, not at the top of this list but intelligent comedies are a dwindling species.

Hell or High Water

Ixcanul, a Mayan movie from Guatemala, might this story of an unwanted pregnancy be this year’s best movie?  Here is one useful review.

Sausage Party, beyond politically incorrect, I kept on thinking I would get sick of the stupid animation and yet I never did.  I remain surprised they let this one play in mainstream theaters.

Sully.  He should have turned the plane around immediately under any plausible calculus, and he didn’t, so you have to give this movie the Straussian reading.

Weiner is a splendid movie with many subtle points, including in the philosophical direction.  In another life, Huma Abedin could have been a movie star.  She has exactly the right mix of distance and involvement, and she dominates every scene she is in, even when just sitting quietly in the background.  Um…I guess she is a movie star.  Starlet.  Whatever.

Difret, an Ethiopian legal drama.

Andrei Tarkovsky, Ivan’s Childhood (reissue).  This is one of Tarkovsky’s worst movies, and yet one of the best movies in virtually any year.

American Honey

Sky Ladder

The Handmaiden, by Park Chan-wook.  Imperfectly eroticized violence, but beautiful nonetheless.


Elle, by Paul Verhoeven.

Nocturnal Animals, by Tom Ford.

The bottom line

My top picks are Ixcanul, American Honey, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Cemetery of Splendor, and Sky Ladder, with Arrival being the best mainstream Hollywood movie.

“To forestall his book’s publication he paid a friend to find people who might convince him not to publish it.”

That is Jennifer Senior quoting Michael Lewis on Daniel Kahneman’s remarks about his own book, Thinking Fast and Slow.

I can’t say I followed this debate very closely, still this paper may settle some of the outstanding questions about public sector unions and wages and bargaining power.

The Effects of Public Unions on Compensation: Evidence from Wisconsin (Job Market Paper)

This paper seeks identify the effect that public sector unions have on compensation. Specifically, I look at the compensation premium associated with teachers’ unions in Wisconsin. In 2011, Wisconsin passed a landmark law (Act 10) which significantly lowered the bargaining power of all public sector unions in the state. Using an event study framework, I exploit plausibly exogenous timing differences based on contract renewal dates, which caused districts to be first exposed to the new regulations in different years. I find that the reduction in union power associated with Act 10 reduced total teacher compensation by 8%, or $6,500. Roughly two-thirds of this decline is driven through reduced fringe benefits. The analysis shows that the most experienced and highest paid teachers benefit most from unionization. I supplement the event study approach with synthetic control and regression discontinuity methods to find that regulatory limits on contract terms, rather than other mechanisms such as state financial aid cuts or union decertification, are driving the results.

That is from Andrew Littten, job market candidate at the University of Michigan (p.s.: Michigan, your job market candidate web site is the very hardest to use and browse, please improve it!)

Thursday assorted links

by on December 1, 2016 at 11:42 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

That is the paper’s subtitle, the title is “Midpregnancy marriage and divorce,” and the authors are Christina M. Gibson-Davis, Elizabeth O. Ananat, and Anna Gassman-Pines.  Here is the abstract:

Conventional wisdom holds that births following the colloquially termed “shotgun marriage”—that is, births to parents who married between conception and the birth—are nearing obsolescence. To investigate trends in shotgun marriage, we matched North Carolina administrative data on nearly 800,000 first births among white and black mothers to marriage and divorce records. We found that among married births, midpregnancy-married births (our preferred term for shotgun-married births) have been relatively stable at about 10 % over the past quarter-century while increasing substantially for vulnerable population subgroups. In 2012, among black and white less-educated and younger women, midpregnancy-married births accounted for approximately 20 % to 25 % of married first births. The increasing representation of midpregnancy-married births among married births raises concerns about well-being among at-risk families because midpregnancy marriages may be quite fragile. Our analysis revealed, however, that midpregnancy marriages were more likely to dissolve only among more advantaged groups. Of those groups considered to be most at risk of divorce—namely, black women with lower levels of education and who were younger—midpregnancy marriages had the same or lower likelihood of divorce as preconception marriages. Our results suggest an overlooked resiliency in a type of marriage that has only increased in salience.

That is via Kevin Lewis and Anecdotal.

In 2015, US output per capita was 12.5% below its 1950–2007 trend. This paper uses an estimated New Keynesian model to decompose the sources of this gap. The model features demographic trends, real and monetary shocks, and the occasionally binding zero lower bound on nominal interest rates. I calibrate demographic trends to observed mortality and fertility rates between 1940 and 2015, and estimate the model’s business cycle processes on quarterly data from 1984 to 2015. The model is successful in accounting for the post-1990 trends in the real interest rate, the employment-population ratio, and labor productivity growth. I extract the model’s structural shocks over the zero lower bound period and find that about half of the gap between output per capita and its long-run trend is due to the aging of the population, one fifth is due to real factors, one fifth to monetary factors, and roughly one tenth to the binding zero lower bound.

That is the job market paper from Callum Jones of NYU (pdf).  Here is his broader portfolio.  I would not model “secular stagnation” using New Keynesian models, but that granted it is remarkable how low is the contribution of the zero lower  bound to the problem.

Carlsen > Karjakin

by on November 30, 2016 at 10:04 pm in Games | Permalink

1. Karjakin played some of the best defensive chess ever, finding resources where there appeared to be none.

2. Carlsen had become a bit lazy, relying too much on his stamina advantage to beat opponents (yes I do understand that is an odd notion of lazy!).  Yet he had no real stamina advantage over Karjakin, who is of the same age and came to the match in very good physical shape.  So Carlsen simply could not grind him down, and it took Carlsen the entire match to realize that.

3. Karjakin made very few attempts to achieve demonstrable, sharp advantages.  That limited his total number of victories to one.

4. In the rapid tie-breaker — four consecutive games in the final day — Carlsen couldn’t try to win on stamina and simply showed he was the better player across many dimensions of the game.  Karjakin posed him no problems at all in these contests.

5. Karjakin played as Carlsen’s equal for the twelve regular time control games.  Yet I don’t think he will be back as a challenger.  His style is too “drab” (Kasparov’s description) to get through all of the risk-rewarding tournaments to reach the final championship match again.

6. Perhaps rapid chess is the future of chess as a spectator sport.  Four games in a row, each twenty-five minutes per player, plus increments.  It was thrilling, and I watched on the train.

7. Putin finally lost one this year, let’s hope this reverses the trend.

Here is the Chessbase account, here is the quite good NYT story.

Here is a separate bit from that interview:

I’m interested in how animals are connected to the internet and how we might be able to see the world from an animal’s point of view. There’s something very interesting in someone else’s vantage point, which might have a truth to it. For instance, the tagging of cows for automatic milking machines, so that the cows can choose when to milk themselves. Cows went from being milked twice a day to being milked three to six times a day, which is great for the farm’s productivity and results in happier cows, but it’s also faintly disquieting that the technology makes clear to us the desires of cows – making them visible in ways they weren’t before. So what does one do with that knowledge? One of the unintended consequences of big data and the internet of things is that some things will become visible and compel us to confront them.

And on the main question at hand:

What we are seeing now isn’t an anxiety about artificial intelligence per se, it’s about what it says about us. That if you can make something like us, where does it leave us?

Here is the full interview with Genevieve Bell.

Wednesday assorted links

by on November 30, 2016 at 11:46 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is just one bit from it:

In other words, the Trump program for protectionism could go far beyond interference in international trade. It also could bring the kind of crony capitalist nightmare scenarios described by Ayn Rand in her novel “Atlas Shrugged,” a book many Republican legislators would be well advised to now read or reread.


The biggest irony of this whole Trump initiative is that it likely would lead to higher U.S. trade deficits. Economists stress the offsetting nature of trade flows and capital flows. As the accounting identities are constructed, a higher trade deficit corresponds to higher capital inflows, and a lower trade deficit corresponds to higher capital outflows. (To see the nature of these balanced transactions, imagine China selling goods and accumulating Treasury bills in return, a form of investment in this country.) So a Trumpian plan to limit capital outflows, through whatever means, is also — if only indirectly and without such intent — a plan to boost the trade deficit.

Do read the whole thing.

Miguel Faria-e-Castro, on the job market from NYU, has a very interesting paper on that question.  Here are his findings:

What is the impact of an extra dollar of government spending during a financial crisis? How important was fiscal policy during the Great Recession? I develop a macroeconomic model of fiscal policy with a financial sector that allows me to study the effects of fiscal policy tools such as government purchases and transfers, as well as of financial sector interventions such as bank recapitalizations and credit guarantees. Solving the model with nonlinear methods allows me to show how the linkages between household and bank balance sheets generate new channels through which fiscal policy can stimulate the economy, and study the state dependent effects of fiscal policy. I combine the model with data on the fiscal policy response to assess its role during the financial crisis and Great Recession. My main findings are that: (i) the fall in consumption would had been 1/3 worse in the absence of fiscal interventions; (ii) transfers to households and bank recapitalizations yielded the largest fiscal multipliers; and (iii) bank recapitalizations were closest to generating a Pareto improvement.

Bank recapitalizations — just remember that the next time you hear someone talking about “G” in the abstract.

See also this new Alesina NBER paper, indicating that the how of fiscal adjustment is much more important than the when.  No tax hikes!

Tuesday assorted links

by on November 29, 2016 at 1:46 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

Market prices do convey important information about changing risks. For example, option prices suggest that Mexican assets are expected to deliver larger gains than losses, implying Trump won’t seek to impose headline-grabbing sanctions on the country. Although less pronounced, options market indicators are similar for China, Japan and emerging markets.

In short, the options market does not appear to view Trump as a protectionist but rather as someone who understands the value and importance of global trade.

That is from Myron Scholes in the FT.  Here is my earlier dialogue with Bob Zoellick on trade and Trump.

What I’ve been reading

by on November 29, 2016 at 12:50 am in Books | Permalink

1. Incarnations: A History of India in Fifty Lives, by Sunil Khilnani.  A highly readable introduction to Indian history, structured around the lives of some of its major figures.  I passed along my copy to Alex.

2. Haruki Murakami, Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa.  More for classical music and Ojawa fans than Murakami readers, this is nonetheless an easy to read and stimulating set of interviews for any serious classical music listener.  They are most interesting on Mahler.

3. Elsa Morante, History.  In America, this is one of the least frequently read and discussed great European novels of the 20th century.

4. Miriam J. Laugesen, Fixing Medical Prices: How Physicians are Paid.  Will people still care about these issues for the next four years?  I hope so, because this is the best book I know of on Medicare pricing and its influence on pricing throughout the broader U.S. health care system.

My copy of Joel Mokyr, A Culture of Growth: The Origins of the Modern Economy has arrived.  It is a very good statement of how political fragmentation and intensified intellectual competition drove modernity and the Industrial Revolution.

I have only perused John H. Kagel and Alvin E. Roth, Handbook of Experimental Economics, volume 2, but it appears to be an extremely impressive contribution.

Marc Levinson’s An Extraordinary Time: The End of the Postwar Boom and the Return of the Ordinary Economy details what made the post World War II era so special in terms of its economics and income distribution and why it will be so hard to recreate.

Chris Hayes’s A Colony in a Nation, due out in March, he argues that racial equality really hasn’t improved much since 1968.

Guillermo A. Calvo, Macroeconomics in Times of Liquidity Crises is a useful book on sudden stops and related ideas.

Arrived in my pile is Yuval Noah Harati, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.

Maybe not:

Interestingly enough, in two of those crucial Midwestern states that flipped to Trump, Democratic Senate candidates campaigned on economically populist platforms — but they did notably worse than Hillary Clinton. Russ Feingold underperformed Clinton by 2.4 points in Wisconsin, and Ted Strickland underperformed her by 12.8 points in Ohio. Feingold amassed a populist record of challenging big money and special interests when he was in the Senate, and Strickland harshly condemned trade deals during his campaign against Rob Portman (who served as George W. Bush’s US trade representative).

Meanwhile, the two Democratic Senate candidates in competitive races who outperformedClinton the most both self-consciously presented a moderate image rather than running as liberal firebrands. In Missouri, Jason Kander overperformed Clinton by 15.9 points, and in Indiana, Evan Bayh did 9.6 points better than her (though they both lost).

Here is more from Andrew Prokop at Vox.