History

This is often forgotten:

One traditional way of measuring nations’ power relative to each other is to compare their gross domestic product. By this measure, Russia gained economically on all of its competitors as well as on the world as a whole in 1999-2015.

And this:

The GINC measures national power as the geometric mean of the following ratios:

  • TPR = total population of country ratio;
  • UPR = urban population of country ratio;
  • ISR = steel production of country ratio;
  • ECR = primary energy consumption ratio;
  • MER = military expenditure ratio;
  • MPR = military personnel ratio.

The GINC shows Russia’s power rising by 6.53 per cent in 1999-2014, while the power of the US, UK, France, Germany and Italy declined 13.14 per cent, 24.42 per cent, 24.23 per cent, 29.92 per cent and 27.29 per cent respectively in 2014 compared with 1999.

That is from Simon Saradzhyan writing for the FT.

The heroes of Jaron Lanier

by on May 2, 2016 at 3:39 am in History, Law, Web/Tech | Permalink

There are many, but they include:

  • J.M. Keynes,  he was the first person to think about how to really manage an information system.
  • E.M. Forster for The Machine Stops, written in 1907, which foresees our error with a very critical eye.
  • Alan Turing, who stayed a kind person even as he was tortured to death.
  • Mary Shelley who was a keen observer of people and how they can confuse themselves with technology.

And of course my friend Ted Nelson. He invented the digital media link and was perhaps the most formative figure in the development of online culture. He proposed that instead of copying digital media, we should keep one copy of each cultural expression on a digital network and pay the author of that expression an affordable amount whenever it is accessed. In this way, anyone could earn a living from their creative work.

Here is another interesting bit about the internet:

One thing that bugs me is the way context is lost. You start discovering new music or new culture in very particular ways. Algorithms become your guide. If an algorithm calculates that you may like a piece of music, it will recommend it to you. That makes the algorithm the master of context for humanity. It tends to remove culture from its context, and context is everything. The structure of the Net itself has become the context instead of real people or the real world. That’s a really big deal.

Here is the full piece, an interview with Catherine Jewell at WIPO, I would say that Lanier is or should be rising in relative status.  For the pointer I thank Samir Varma.

The history of GPS

by on May 1, 2016 at 12:33 am in Books, History, Science, Web/Tech | Permalink

The United States Air Force never really wanted GPS.  The 621B program, the precursor to GPS, was underfunded.  After it evolved into the GPS program in the early 1970s, the Air Force largely neglected it, to the point of disowning it and defunding it.  A few times, it tried to kill its own creation, and GPS was kept alive by the Pentagon’s largesse…

One reason the Air Force was slow to embrace GPS is the space-based projects were never seen as a priority.  “The Air Force is not a big user of space,” says Scott Page..”The Air Force gets to build for space, but the Marine Corps, Army, and Navy are much more reliant on actual space services than the  Air Force itself is.  The budget for space is in the Air Force, but in terms of the number of customers and users, they’re all in the other services.

Another source said “…the Air Force is pilots who fly planes.”

That is from Greg Milner’s new and interesting book Pinpoint: How GPS is Changing Technology, Culture, and Our Minds.

Milner also relates how the park rangers in Death Valley National Park have the term “death by GPS.”  It refers to park users who follow their GPS and then die:

It describes what happens when GPS fails you, not by being wrong, exactly, but often by being too right.  It does such a good job of computing the most direct route from Point A to Point B that it takes you down roads which barely exist, or were used at one time and abandoned, or are not suitable for your car, or which require all kinds of local knowledge that would make you aware that making that turn is bad news.

Recommended.

The female coyote nurses the pups after they are born, yet they are hard to feed and the mother is not in ideal condition for hunting.  She therefore regurgitates her food regularly for the pups, and furthermore the biological father brings food too.  And yet:

Dogs have evolved a different parental strategy.  Human waste tends to show up at the same place daily and so the dogs, as we have noted, have very low transportation and acquisition costs.

The pregnant female village dog can stay by her food source all through pregnancy and lactation.  She can locate her den in the middle of the food source.  frequently, she goes to some quiet place outside the village (but not too far outside).  There are many quiet places in the Mexico City dump.  All over the dump are fat nursing pups.

Regurgitation is occasional rather than regular, and the father is absent altogether.  In evolutionary terms, it seems that is the result of cooperation with humans.

That is all from the new and excellent book What is a Dog?, by Raymond Coppinger and Lorna Coppinger.  The best parts of this book draw inferences from what is observed in Mexican town dumps.

Here is the transcript, the video, and the podcast.  We covered a good deal of ground, here is one bit:

COWEN: You once wrote, I quote, “My substitute for LSD was Indian food,” and by that, you meant lamb vindaloo.

PAGLIA: Yes.

COWEN: You stand by this.

PAGLIA: Yes, I’ve been in a rut on lamb vindaloo.

COWEN: A rut, tell us.

PAGLIA: It’s a horrible rut.

COWEN: It’s not a horrible rut, it may be a rut.

PAGLIA: No, it’s a horrible rut. It’s a 40-year rut. Every time I go to an Indian restaurant, I say “Now, I’m going to try something new.” But, no, I must go back to the lamb vindaloo.

All I know is it’s like an ecstasy for me, the lamb vindaloo.

COWEN: Like De Quincey, tell us, what are the effects of lamb vindaloo?

PAGLIA: What can I say? I attain nirvana.

And this:

COWEN: This is Sexual Personae, your best known book, which I recommend to everyone, if you haven’t already read it.

PAGLIA: It took 20 years.

COWEN: Read all of it. My favorite chapter is the Edmund Spenser chapter, by the way.

PAGLIA: Really? Why? How strange.

COWEN: That brought Spenser to life for me.

PAGLIA: Oh, my goodness.

COWEN: I realized it was a wonderful book.

PAGLIA: Oh, my God.

COWEN: I had no idea. I thought of it as old and fusty and stuffy.

PAGLIA: Oh, yes.

COWEN: And 100 percent because of you.

PAGLIA: We should tell them that The Faerie Queene is quite forgotten now, but it had enormous impact, Spenser’s Faerie Queene, on Shakespeare, and on the Romantic poets, and so on, and so forth. The Faerie Queene had been taught in this very moralistic way. But in my chapter, I showed that it was entirely a work of pornography, equal to the Marquis de Sade.

COWEN: [laughs]

PAGLIA: How interesting that you would be drawn to that.

COWEN: Very interesting.

Camille

You also can read or hear Camille on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Byrds, Foucault, Suzanne Pleshette vs. Tippi Hendren, dating, Brazil, Silicon Valley, Harold Bloom, LSD, her teaching career, and much, much more.

Typically a Conversation with Tyler is about ten thousand words, this one is closer to fifteen thousand.

Conducted by Arjun Jayadev and Josh Maso, here is one bit:

John Hicks was a stammerer, and so when you had an ordinary conversation with him, every utterance started with uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh and sometimes was interminable. And then the answer would sort of burst forth rapid fire and then he would start all over again. But he was fond of poetry. When he was a student he had been the poetry editor for an Oxford student paper. He had memorized lots of poetry, including the whole fifth canto of the Divine Comedy in Italian. Now and then when you talked with him he would quote something, and that would flow perfect without stammering. Later on we were staying outside Sienna, and he would visit there regularly. At one point we were out with a bunch of students – it was the opportunity of their life
to sit and listen to Hicks. I brought up the poetry, and he explained it this way: He had trouble falling asleep. So the way he would get to sleep was he would set his mind to rehearsing or remembering one stanza of poetry for each century, starting in four or 500 B.C. And he gave some examples and then he said, but from the second to the ninth century there wasn’t much worth remembering.

And this:

I first met Hayek personally in Salzburg in 1975-­1976.  I met him several times after that at UCLA, Claremont, and Freiburg, and he was always gracious. He definitely was pleased by the
revival of interest in his work but, I believe, did not really want slavish followers.  In particular, I remember a pamphlet he had written for Institute of Economic Affairs in London on a currency reform proposal and I raised a theoretical objection to his proposal.  I remember walking with him to the UCLA Faculty Club for lunch and explaining what I thought was wrong.  He got quite worried and said he wanted to think more about it. I do not think he found a satisfactory answer and, as far as I can recall, he stopped promoting the proposal.

Leijonhufvud these days is somewhat of a neglected figure, but the interview has numerous points of interest.

It is also an example of great achievements in light of a disability:

As a teenager, following a severe head injury—the result of her efforts to protect another slave—Tubman developed a lifelong, chronic condition, with debilitating symptoms that have been described as being similar to those of narcolepsy and temporal lobe epilepsy.

Here is that source.  Here are many other sources.

Now here’s the bad news: There is plenty in the media today about Tubman being female and black, but I haven’t seen a single story even mention this angle.  Will anyone cover it?  I hope so but I fear not.

Ruchir Sharma on Brazil

by on April 19, 2016 at 2:25 pm in Books, Economics, History | Permalink

Today the average Brazilian income is about 16% of the U.S. average, with basically no gain for 100 years.

Even more striking, since the mid-1980s Brazil has seen its GDP growth rate track commodity prices more closely than any other nation in the world. Brazil’s fortunes are so closely tied to the global commodity cycle in part because so little works inside the country. The private economy does produce some internationally competitive companies in auto parts, aerospace and other industries, but they thrive by dodging a growing bureaucracy that smothers the rest.

Spending by local, regional and national governments amounts to 41% of Brazil’s GDP, the largest for any country in its middle-income class, and a scale close to those of much richer European welfare states such as Germany and Norway. Brazilians face the heaviest tax burden of any emerging country, with collections amounting to 35% of GDP. The widespread sense that they get a lousy return in public services is another reason for mass protests against Ms. Rousseff.

Here is the WSJ piece.  Ruchir has a new book coming out on emerging economies, The Rise and Fall of Nations: Forces of Change in the Post-Crisis World.  I have not yet read it, but it is surely of interest.

That is the new book by John S. Strong, which I recommend highly.  It won’t charm you or interest you in the subject if you don’t already care, but the already-motivated can learn a great deal from it.

I find most books on Buddhism frustrating.  One you know the basics, they just feed you the same blah blah blah, running your mind in empty circles.  But perhaps Buddhism is like macroeconomics — you can’t understand it until you know what people argue about, and that is what John S. Strong clues us in on.  Here is one typical summary passage:

We have, in this chapter, sought to explore various iterations of the Middle Way, a notion which the Buddha sets forth at the start of his First Sermon.  In order to unravel the many implications of this principle and its applicability to other Buddhist doctrines (something the Buddha did not do in his sermon), I have presented several of its expressions and sought to set them within the context of various philosophical and religious movements that may have been around at the time of the Buddha.  Thus, early Buddhists can be seen as finding their way between karma-deniers and karmic absolutists; and as combining views of saṃsāra both as a real material trap and as an illusory trap; and as shying away from the extremes of affirmation of an Absolute Self and denial of personal continuity.  The Middle Way, however, is not the only thing set forth in the First Sermon as we have it, a text which is mostly devoted to the doctrine of the Four Truths, to which we shall now turn.

Another good way to read about Buddhism is to look at up through p.59 in Nicholas Ostler’s Passwords to Paradise: How Languages Have Re-Invented World Religions.  It covers the differential historical spread of Buddhism through the languages of Pali, Gandhari, Sanskrit, and Chinese.  Ostler himself claims to have a working knowledge of eighteen different languages.

Here is a Berkeley class on Buddhist economics.

His new book is titled Legislating Instability: Adam Smith, Free Banking, and the Financial Crisis of 1772.  From Harvard University Press, here is one summary bit:

The central argument of my thesis is thus that the salient financial crisis of the Scottish free banking period, the obtrusive exception to the hypothesis of greater financial stability under free banking in Scotland,was, pace Adam Smith, made more rather than less likely by precisely those regulated or “unfree” elements of Scottish banking which the author of The Wealth of Nations promoted.  Further, I argue that this conclusion should hardly be cause for surprise once we realize that it was none other than the oldest, largest, and most established banks in Scotland that had lobbied for Smith’s legal restrictions on banking; regulations that had the effects of raising barriers to entry, lowering competition in the provision of short-term credit, increasing the efficient scale of banking, and therefore, ultimately, amplifying the level of systematic risk in Scottish credit markets.

Finally, in support of Selgin and White, among others, I find that the relative competitiveness of the Scottish financial system — certainly in contrast to the highly bifurcated English banking sector of the time — along with the unlimited legal liability of shareholders in Scottish private banks, were sources of considerable financial stability, both in 1772 and previously.

Here is the book’s home page.

It is set for 3:30 EST, the Live Stream will be here.

Update: The full event video, transcript, and audio edition will be released Monday, April 25. Check back here on MR or at mercatus.org/conversations.

Here is Ann Althouse on Rhode Island:

I had to make a new tag for Rhode Island. I think it’s the very last state I’ve blogged about — I’d thought I already had a tag for every state — and it’s a story of it not getting respect. Oh, Rhode Island. You can use that previous sentence as your slogan if you want.

Or remember the old saying “Nothing but for Providence”?

It’s not even an island.  How is this for a relevant update?:

The idea was simple enough — to create a logo and slogan that cast the long-struggling state of Rhode Island in a fresh, more optimistic light to help attract tourists and businesses. A world-renowned designer was hired. Market research was conducted. A $5 million marketing campaign was set. What could go wrong?

Everything, it turns out.

The slogan that emerged — “Rhode Island: Cooler and Warmer” — left people confused and spawned lampoons along the lines of “Dumb and Dumber.” A video accompanying the marketing campaign, meant to show all the fun things to do in the state, included a scene shot not in Rhode Island but in Iceland. The website featured restaurants in Massachusetts.

By the way, they hired a New Yorker to do the campaign.

And yet, as a native northeaster who spent three years of his early life in Fall River (southern Massachusetts), I cannot bring myself to name Rhode Island the nation’s most obscure state.  It just doesn’t seem far away enough.  Brown University is world famous, and most people who go from New York to Boston come in contact with the state in some way.  It can count Gilbert Stuart and Cormac McCarthy and H.P. Lovecraft, and the film Dumb and Dumber starts off there, so probably it is no worse (better?) than the nation’s second most obscure state.

Robin Hanson has a good post on this, here is one bit:

How did the industrial era get at least some workers to accept more domination, inequality, and ambiguity, and why hasn’t that worked equally well everywhere? A simple answer I want to explore in this post is: prestigious schools.

While human foragers are especially averse to even a hint of domination, humans are especially eager to take “orders” via copying the practices of prestigious folks. Humans have a uniquely powerful capacity for cultural evolution exactly because we are especially eager and able to copy what prestigious people do. So if humans hate industrial workplace practices when they see them as bosses dominating, but love to copy the practices of prestigious folks, an obvious solution is to habituate kids into workplace practices in contexts that look more like the later than the former.

…centuries ago most young people did signal their abilities via jobs, and the school signaling system has slowly displaced that job signaling system. Pressures to conform to existing practices can’t explain this displacement of a previous practice by a new practice. So why did signaling via school did win out over signaling via early jobs?

Like early jobs, school can have people practice habits that will be useful in jobs, such as showing up on time, doing what you are told even when that is different from what you did before, figuring out ambiguous instructions, and accepting being frequently and publicly ranked relative to similar people. But while early jobs threaten to trip the triggers than make most animals run from domination, schools try to frame a similar habit practice in more acceptable terms, as more like copying prestigious people.

The post is interesting throughout.  And via Brian S., here is Siderea on college, social class, and other matters.

A splendid book, here is Kate Kellaway at The Guardian:

There are two things this book requires. First, it is best read aloud – it comes thrillingly to life – it sounds tremendous. Second, it repays close reading. Studying it is to listen in on a poet with perfect pitch. Getting the diction right – so that the ancient is neither modern nor archaic – is the challenge. And Heaney shows that plain words are stormproofed. It is about more than George Orwell’s tired prescription: “Never use a long word where a short one will do.” It is about how plain language, like plain speaking, has integrity. And it is weight-bearing. It carries. When he introduces uncommon, eye-catching (sometimes longer) words – scaresome, asperging, hotbloods – they stand out but work harder against their plain backgrounds. Take the sighting of the golden bough. The word “refulgent” is strikingly charged, surrounded by “clear”, “green-leafed” and “cold”. Refulgent breaks Orwell’s rule and stands out like the golden branch itself. Or consider the description of Aeneas’s father, Anchises: “A man in old age, worn out, not meant for duress.” “Duress” is the pleasing surprise here (so much better than everyday “hardship”) seizing attention while “old age” and “worn out” do their unobtrusive work.

I will reread it shortly, you can buy it here.

There is a new NBER paper on this topic, by Victoria Y. Fan, Dean T. Jamison, and Lawrence H. Summers, here is the abstract:

Estimates of the long-term annual cost of global warming lie in the range of 0.2-2% of global income. This high cost has generated widespread political concern and commitment as manifested in the Paris agreements of December, 2015. Analyses in this paper suggest that the expected annual cost of pandemic influenza falls in the same range as does that of climate change although toward the low end. In any given year a small likelihood exists that the world will again suffer a very severe flu pandemic akin to the one of 1918. Even a moderately severe pandemic, of which at least 6 have occurred since 1700, could lead to 2 million or more excess deaths. World Bank and other work has assessed the probable income loss from a severe pandemic at 4-5% of global GNI. The economics literature points to a very high intrinsic value of mortality risk, a value that GNI fails to capture. In this paper we use findings from that literature to generate an estimate of pandemic cost that is inclusive of both income loss and the cost of elevated mortality. We present results on an expected annual basis using reasonable (although highly uncertain) estimates of the annual probabilities of pandemics in two bands of severity. We find:

1. Expected pandemic deaths exceed 700,000 per year worldwide with an associated annual mortality cost of estimated at $490 billion. We use published figures to estimate expected income loss at $80 billion per year and hence the inclusive cost to be $570 billion per year or 0.7% of global income (range: 0.4-1.0%).

2. For moderately severe pandemics about 40% of inclusive cost results from income loss. For severe pandemics this fraction declines to 12%: the intrinsic cost of elevated mortality becomes completely dominant.

3. The estimates of mortality cost as a % of GNI range from around 1.6% in lower-middle income countries down to 0.3% in high-income countries, mostly as a result of much higher pandemic death rates in lower-income environments.

4. The distribution of pandemic severity has an exceptionally fat tail: about 95% of the expected cost results from pandemics that would be expected to kill over 7 million people worldwide.

In other words, in expected value terms an influenza pandemic is a big problem indeed.  But since, unlike global warming, it does not fit conveniently into the usual social status battles which define our politics, it receives far less attention.