Current Affairs

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry

by on October 8, 2014 at 9:45 am in Current Affairs, Science | Permalink

Eric Betzig, one of today’s winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry is a team leader at Janelia Farms the stunning Howard Hughes Medical Institute campus located nearby in Ashburn, VA. I’ve been out to the labs at Janelia a number of times for public talks and seen how Betzig’s work creating much higher resolution microscopes has impacted research in chemistry, biology and brain science. The new microscopes can be used to look at the dynamic operation of live cells. Check out some of the “movies” produced by these techniques. Be sure to scroll down and click right to see the movie of chromosome separation (no it’s not an animiation!).

Betzig has had a very unusual career. After working at Bell Labs for six years he quit science to work in manufacturing, optimizing machines in his father’s factory. After 10 years of that he wanted to get back into science but he hadn’t had any publications for a decade so he knew that he couldn’t just ask for job. Instead, he spent long hours at his cottage thinking of the ideas that would bring him job offers and eventually the Nobel.

Hat tip: Monique van Hoek.

Addendum: Here is Derek Lowe with more on the techniques.

In case you had forgotten:

The degree of political participation in Hong Kong is actually at its highest in history. Before 1997, Hong Kong was a British colony for 155 years, during which it was ruled by 28 governors — all of them directly appointed by London. For Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, to now brand himself as the champion of democracy is hypocrisy of the highest order.

Only after the return of sovereignty to China 17 years ago did Hong Kong gain real public participation in governance. Today, half of the legislature is directly elected by the public and the other half by what are called functional constituencies. The chief executive, a native Hong Konger, is selected by a committee of 1,200 other Hong Kongers.

Further, Beijing has now devised a plan for voters to elect the next chief executive directly, rather than by committee, in 2017 among candidates fielded by a nominating committee — also made up of Hong Kongers. The proximate cause for today’s upheaval is the protesters’ demand for direct public nomination of candidates, too.

That is from Eric X. Li, all good points.  Please note however that I disagree with the general argument of this piece about inequality and the general tone that everything is fine under Chinese rule.

Occupy Hong Kong

by on October 5, 2014 at 1:17 pm in Current Affairs, Travels | Permalink

I’m sitting in my room, in a hotel surrounded by a moat (literally) up in the New Territories.  It is traffic blockades I fear, not tear gas, I guess that is how you become living in the suburbs.  Last I saw, the game shifted to the protestors playing “dribs and drabs concessions” in response to a line-in-the-sand, “empty out by Monday” demand from the authorities.  Such games can go on for a while, especially since the protestors don’t quite have the coherent leadership and management capabilities to enforce an immediate concession, and so the powers that be will tolerate a good deal of sloth.  In between are the Hong Kong police, many of whom (most of whom?) sympathize with the protestors.  The businessmen seem more skeptical.  If you type “PLA” into the Twitter search function, and not much interesting comes up, probably things are OK.  Those three little letters stand for “People’s Liberation Army,” they look like this.  There exists an equilibrium where this event accelerates a) the pace of reform in China, b) a further crackdown in China, or c) both.

toddler

Other good photos, with different subjects, are here.

This is perhaps today’s underreported news story:

Catalonia’s regional government said Tuesday it was suspending its promotion of an independence referendum, a day after a decision by Spain’s Constitutional Court blocking the nonbinding vote.

Catalonia’s leaders still hoped to hold the vote on Nov. 9, said spokesman Francesc Homs, but meanwhile they are halting the campaign for the referendum to avoid subjecting public servants to possible legal liability for defying the court.

There is more here.  Here is an El Pais in English story about how they hope to fight back and continue anyway, but it sounds like a losing cause.  Here is a story on a protest march to defend the referendum idea.  Developing…

I see a whole bunch of candidates here, each backed by a broadly plausible psychological story:

1. They are more ruthless than we realize.

2. They are more like us than we realize.

2b. #1 and #2.

3. They have longer time horizons than we imagine.

4. Due to extreme political constraints, they have far shorter time horizons than we think.

5. They are more inured to the risk of economic depression and hardship than we grasp.

6. They are more obsessed with parallels to earlier Chinese history than a typical Westerner would find natural.

7. They are less rational than social science rational choice models would predict, having one or two major blind spots on matters of critical importance.

8. The Chinese see themselves as weaker and less stable than we see them.

9. All of the above.

10. Good luck.

A poll last week by the Chinese University of Hong Kong showed that 46.3% of the city’s residents opposed Occupy Central while 31.3% supported it. But the group has more support among the young. According to the poll, 47% of people under 24 back Occupy Central compared with 20.9% of those ages 40-59.

There is more here.

Swiss voters on Sunday rejected a plan to ditch the country’s all-private health insurance system and create a state-run scheme, exit polls showed.

Some 64 percent of the electorate shot down a plan pushed by left-leaning parties who say the current system is busting the budgets of ordinary residents, figures from polling agency gfs.bern showed.

Going public would have been a seismic shift for a country whose health system is often hailed abroad as a model of efficiency, but is a growing source of frustration at home because of soaring costs.

“Over the past 20 years in Switzerland, health costs have grown 80 percent and insurance premiums 125 percent,” ophthalmologist Michel Matter told AFP.

There is more here, and for the pointer I thank Samir Varma.

HongKongshare

That is from Ian Bremmer on Twitter.

The game-theoretic dynamic of such situations is of course not always a happy one.  Pro-semi-autonomy views in Hong Kong feel desperate and are losing leverage.  China feels it can play tough, because it sees it is gaining influence.  And the equilibrium is…?

We’re again seeing the return of magical thinking in the economics profession and elsewhere.  Limiting climate change is indeed worth doing, but it is not close to a free lunch.  Eduardo Porter makes the relevant point quite nicely:

“If the Chinese and the Indians found it much more economically efficient to build out solar, nuclear and wind, why are they still building all these coal plants?” asked Ted Nordhaus, chairman of the Breakthrough Institute, a think tank focused on development and the environment.

China’s CO2 emissions increased 4.2 percent last year, according to the Global Carbon Project, helping drive a global increase of 2.3 percent. China now accounts for 28 percent of the world’s total emissions, more than the United States and the European Union combined.

“I don’t think the Chinese and the Indians are stupid,” Mr. Nordhaus told me. “They are looking at their indigenous energy resources and energy demand and making fairly reasonable decisions.”

For them, combating climate change does not look at all like a free lunch.

Note that doing something about air pollution and doing something about carbon emissions are two distinct issues.  America did a great deal to clean up its air, for instance when it comes to the dangerous Total Particulate Matter, but has done much less to lower its carbon emissions.  It is no accident that the former is a national public good, the latter is mainly a global public good.  China, India, and other developing nations may well go a similar route and simply keep emitting carbon at high and perhaps even growing rates.   If you lump everything together into a general “the benefits of getting rid of air pollution,” you will be missing that nations can and probably will make targeted clean-up attempts that leave carbon emissions largely intact.

By the way, here is yesterday’s report from India:

“India’s first task is eradication of poverty,” Mr. Javadekar said, speaking in a New York hotel suite a day after a United Nations climate summit. “Twenty percent of our population doesn’t have access to electricity, and that’s our top priority. We will grow faster, and our emissions will rise.”

India is the world’s third-largest carbon polluter, behind China and the United States, and Mr. Javadekar’s comments are a first indication of the direction of the environmental policies of the new prime minister, Narendra Modi…

In coming decades, as India works to provide access to electricity to more than 300 million people, its emissions are projected to double, surpassing those of the United States and China.

If you haven’t tried crossing the street in India, you don’t know much about how hard it is to fix the problem of carbon emissions.

Why not just fire them or cut their pay?  As you may know, ESPN just suspended Bill Simmons for three weeks.

One possibility is that a fined but still active worker may continue to “shoot off his mouth” and thus increase the ongoing collateral damage.  (Simmons called the NFL commissioner a “liar” and I believe he works for one of the network’s revenue sources.)  The suspension is a kind of cooling off period.

Another possibility is that ESPN wishes to shift the long-run bargaining equilibrium.  They wish to signal to Simmons that he isn’t as valuable to them as he may think he is, in the hope of either cutting his pay relative to trend or inducing him to be more careful with his future words.  They wish to show they can go without his output for three weeks, without (perhaps) a major loss of business.  Fining him would not shift the long-run balance of power in the same manner because ESPN is continuing to rely on the traffic which Simmons brings in and thus signaling that they really need him.

I do not know if the suspension is with or without pay, but a version of the above argument can work either way, with some modifications required.

If I were the commissioner, I would be insulted by the suspension of Simmons.  It suggests these are words which cannot be said, perhaps because they will elicit audience assent.  The suspension also signals that ESPN regards the commissioner as quite thin-skinned and presumably — especially if he is indeed thin-skinned! — he could be offended by that too.

In sticky nominal wage models, it remains an interesting question why more workers are not suspended rather than fired outright.  Indeed this used to be closer to the norm in many manufacturing labor markets.

Pan-national borrowers such as the European Investment Bank, World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank have raised $219bn on global debt markets so far this year, the largest sum raised year to date since records began, according to data from Dealogic.

From Elaine Moore at the FT, there is more here.   The world as a whole of course is richer than ever before, most of all in the emerging economies, so I do not take this borrowing to be an encouraging sign.

Indian average is over

by on September 23, 2014 at 8:28 am in Current Affairs, Data Source, Economics | Permalink

The richer states have, on average, experienced relatively faster per capita GDP growth than the poorer states, despite the strong performance of low income states such as Bihar, Orissa and Uttarakhand. The reality is that the pace at which richer states are pulling away appears to be increasing.

That is from David Keohane at the FT, two excellent maps at the link as well.

Just hours after Scotland voted “no” to independence from the United Kingdom, Catalonia’s regional parliament announced on Friday that it had passed a law, which Catalan leaders say authorizes them to hold a non-binding “consultation” on independence from Spain in November.

The law was passed with a vote of 106 to 28.

Spain’s central government and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, however, categorically oppose Catalonia’s campaign for a referendum, as the Spanish constitution doesn’t allow referendums that don’t include all Spaniards.

There is more here, and much more here.  My view is that we’ve been getting lucky on these European political events — in relative though not absolute terms — and sooner or later that streak of good fortune is bound to end.

The excellent Kevin Lewis points us to a new paper in Science by Patrick Gerland, et.al.:

The United Nations recently released population projections based on data until 2012 and a Bayesian probabilistic methodology. Analysis of these data reveals that, contrary to previous literature, world population is unlikely to stop growing this century. There is an 80% probability that world population, now 7.2 billion, will increase to between 9.6 and 12.3 billion in 2100. This uncertainty is much smaller than the range from the traditional UN high and low variants. Much of the increase is expected to happen in Africa, in part due to higher fertility and a recent slowdown in the pace of fertility decline. Also, the ratio of working age people to older people is likely to decline substantially in all countries, even those that currently have young populations.

The paper is here, gated for some of you.   A variety of summaries and forms of coverage can be found here.  That is good news for those who buy into Julian Simon, bad news for those worried about environmental sustainability.