Law

This is how to make me feel like Bryan Caplan:

Back-to-school angst isn’t just for kids. To keep senior citizens up with the times, several Nordic countries are currently debating a proposal to send them back to school.

“To prepare ourselves for the future we need to think out of the box,” writes Nordic Council rapporteur Poul Nielson in Proposal 7 of a new report (pdf) about the future of work in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Aaland. His proposal outlines a plan for mandatory adult education and continuing education in the region, in order to stay competitive in the global market.

A startling point in Nielson’s proposal is the word “mandatory.” He hopes to make continuous education compulsory for all, and to build it into the regular career cycle of Nordic workers.

That is by Anne Quito, via Daniel Pink.

I have found that discussions of Brexit would be improved by considering the British productivity gap.  Often I hear talk that a Britain set free from EU strictures can pull ahead and overtake those countries, at least in terms of economics.  Yet a look at the historical record is sobering.

If you compare British productivity per labor hour, it is about thirty percent below the levels of France, Germany, and Ireland.  It is subpar before North Sea oil, during North Sea oil, and after North Sea oil.  It is well below par even when Germany is at or near full employment, so this is not mainly a composition effect resulting from Britain putting to work more lower-quality laborers and thus lowering their average.  It also tends to hold on a sector-by-sector basis, though of course not for finance.

In terms of productivity, Britain ranks below even Italy by these metrics, pre-crash too.  Don’t bother to ask about the Nordics.  The UK, however, does beat Japan.

You will note that this phenomenon is quite distinct from the recent, post-crash UK productivity stagnation, as it is a story about initial levels.  Before 1973, when Britain joined the then-EEC, the productivity gap was slightly larger than it is today.  In other words during its EU membership the country closed the productivity gap somewhat, though of course this may not be due to EU membership in any direct way.

There are various explanations for the British productivity gap, some of them involving education, or management, but I wonder whether these are explanations or mere restatements of the basic facts.

I’ll never forget the first time I visited the Netherlands in 1985.  I was in Dordrecht and reading through the comments of a guest book for a modest hotel.  The writer was British, and apparently was visiting the Continent for the first time.  He/she expressed shock at seeing that virtually everywhere in the Netherlands was a nice place, compared to the home country, much of which was not so clean and not so nice.  He/she lamented and apologized for this feature of Great Britain, and that is yet another way of expressing the productivity gap.

At least in some sectors, there are reasons to believe that the productivity gap dates at least as far back as the late nineteenth century, when Britain lost a good deal of ground to Germany.  The debate is murky, but it is wrong to think of this as a recent problem, try here and here.

As of late, the United Kingdom has punched far above its weight by (re)creating London as a service center and financial capital of most of Europe.  Post-Brexit, London indeed might keep this role, albeit in a probably diminished capacity, and there is some risk of London losing it altogether.  While there is a “Dutch disease” problem (sterling appreciation hurts other British exports), on net the success of London really does help pay the bills elsewhere.

In the meantime, it is not obvious that productivity miracles will be blossoming elsewhere in the British economy.

gap

It is indeed a sobering thought — most of all for the Leave case — to contemplate the British productivity gap.

The [1707] Act of Union was a legislative measure agreed in Scotland by a tiny patrician elite against some internal parliamentary opposition and much external popular hostility.

That is from T.M. Devine’s new and useful Independence or Union: Scotland’s Past and Scotland’s Present.

A neural network can be designed to provide a measure of its own confidence in a categorization, but the complexity of the mathematical calculations involved means it’s not straightforward to take the network apart to understand how it makes its decisions. This can make unintended behavior hard to predict; and if failure does occur, it can be difficult to explain why. If a system misrecognizes an object in a photo, for instance, it may be hard (though not impossible) to know what feature of the image led to the error. Similar challenges exist with other machine learning techniques.

That is from Will Knight.  This reminds me of computer chess, especially in its earlier days but still today as well.  The evaluation functions are not transparent, to say the least, and they were not designed by the conscious planning of humans.  (In the case of chess, it was a common tactic to let varied program options play millions of games against each other and simply see which evaluation functions won the most.)  So when people debate “Will you buy the Peter Singer utilitarian driverless car?” or “Will you buy the Kant categorical imperative driverless car?”, and the like, they are not paying sufficient heed to this point.  A lot of the real “action” with driverless cars will be determined by the non-transparent features of their programs.

How will regulatory systems — which typically look for some measure of verifiable ex ante safety — handle this reality?  Or might this non-transparency be precisely what enables the vehicles to be put on the road, because it will be harder to object to them?  What will happen when there is a call to “fix the software so this doesn’t happen any more”?  To be sure, adjustments will be made.

More and more of our world is becoming this way, albeit slowly.

For the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

…I work occasionally at the VA as a psychiatrist in both inpatient and outpatient settings. My impression is that the men going into the recent wars are far less psychologically healthy then the men who went to WWI, WWII, or Korea. The prior longitudinal studies of the wars of the first half of the 20th century, such as they are, do indeed suggest that most men exit war with similar psychological profiles as to when they entered. Could the recently documented ‘sense of loss’ so many returning veterans express reflect something similar to inner city youths and gangs, namely, that the camaraderie of combat and order of military life provided the paternal presence they lacked growing up? Military life and combat provided what communities and families had provided similar men when they returned from WWI and WWII. Take away the military life and combat, and they are left where they were prior to joining.

That is from a recent post on reading.

Which Danish restaurant gained a third Michelin star in February 2016?

How many municipalities are there in Denmark?

In what constellation did the 16th-century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe discover a new star?

Questions such as those are part of a new Danish citizenship test so difficult that more than two-thirds of applicants who took it for the first time in June failed, the Integration Ministry confirmed this week.

Here is the NYT article, this one stumped me too:

Danish Radio recently asked the actor Morten Grunwald a question on the test: When was the premiere of the first movie about the Olsen Gang, a fictional criminal syndicate? Mr. Grunwald, a star of the film, replied, “That, I can’t even answer myself.” His memory was jogged when he was given the choices: 1968, 1970 or 1971. (It was 1968.)

I hope you have all seen the episodes of the TV show Borgen, one of my favorites.

“These are black boxes,” said Dr. Steven Joffe, a pediatric oncologist and bioethicist of the University of Pennsylvania, who serves on the FDA’s Pediatric Ethics Committee. “IRBs as a rule are incredibly difficult to study. Their processes are opaque, they don’t publicize what they do. There is no public record of their decision or deliberations, they don’t, as a rule, invite scrutiny or allow themselves to be observed. They ought to be accountable for the work they do.”

That is part of a longer and very interesting article on whether IRBs should be for-profit, or if we even at this point have a choice:

“This shift to commercial IRBs is, in effect, over,” said Caplan, who heads the division of bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center. “It’s automatic and it’s not going back.”

Institutional review boards — which review all research that involves human participants — have undergone a quiet revolution in recent years, with many drug companies strongly encouraging researchers to use commercial boards, considered by many more efficient than their nonprofit counterparts.

Commercial IRBs now oversee an estimated 70 percent of US clinical trials for drugs and medical devices. The industry has also consolidated, with larger IRBs buying smaller ones, and even private equity firms coming along and buying the companies. Arsenal Capital Partners, for example, now owns WIRB-Copernicus Group.

But even if the tide has already turned, the debate over commercial review boards — and whether they can serve as human subject safety nets, responsible for protecting the hundreds of thousands of people who enroll in clinical trials each year — continues to swirl.

I am not well-informed in this area, but if you refer back to the first paragraph, perhaps nobody is.  That’s worrying.

For the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

Or will it at all?

With the resignations of Cameron, Boris Johnson, and now Farage, it seems few leading politicians are keen to “own” Brexit and its consequences.  If those individuals wish to step back from accepting the consequences of Brexit, might that tendency spread more generally?

If your thoughts run along the lines of “they have to do this, otherwise there will be violence in the streets,” or “they have to proceed with Article 50, otherwise British government will have no legitimacy,” I say Beware The They!

They, they, they.  Try he and she.  Word on the street these days is that Article 50 won’t even be seriously considered before the French and German elections, which means Fall 2017 at the earliest.  OK, so let’s say it is October 2017, and Brexit is more unpopular because the intervening uncertainty has created a recession.  Do you, as an individual British legislator, wish to claim an ownership of the process at that point?  If Farage didn’t want to own it, and so quickly realized that, why should you pick up the bag?  Yes I know most individual constituencies, evaluated as constituencies, were pro-Brexit.  But they were also anti-recession and anti-chaos, and so you must choose between giving them the means they want and giving them the ends they want.

It’s already being debated whether Article 50 invocation requires an Act of Parliament or not.  I can’t judge the constitutional issue (can anyone?), but practically speaking it seems to me that if Parliament says it requires their explicit consent than it does.  Similarly, if Parliament washes its hands of the matter, who or what can overrule them and make them vote if they don’t want to?  So I see a few scenarios in this multi-stage game:

1. Parliament wants no vote in the matter, and claims it doesn’t have to vote.  In this scenario, the new PM may not act on it either.  Note that Theresa May was originally pro-Remain, she will believe that Article 50 will worsen the recession and thus her electoral prospects, and she wouldn’t have parliamentary approval as cover for pushing the nuclear button.  If I were in Parliament, with a moderately pro-Leave constituency, I would be rooting for this scenario.  No one acts, but everyone can blame other parties for not acting.

2. Parliament cannot run away from its voting rights, or even positively seeks to assert them.  Under this scenario, commentators may suggest that Parliament as a whole has to desire Brexit, if only to keep its legitimacy.  But recall that before the referendum, Parliament as a whole was about 3-1 pro-Remain.  Why chase after a voting right you don’t wish to have?  If Farage didn’t want to stick around for such an outcome, why should you?  So vote Remain, claim you had initially campaigned along with pro-Remain forces, claim you are sticking to your original electoral mandate, and see what happens to your political future.  Say it is “the others” who are detaching Parliament from the will of the people.

3. The 2017 PM and Cabinet take to the British people an alternative, non-EU vision of what Leave would look like, but they don’t lie too much to make it look so great.  They hold a second referendum, not on Leave vs. Remain per se, but on whether that is a satisfactory target option for a Leave scenario.  In fact they can design the plan to fail simply by being somewhat realistic.  The option fails, and the politicians claim everyone has to go back to the drawing board.  I get sick of my Twitter feed being full of so much Brexit talk for so many years, and I stop following so many British people.

4. The trickling, tortuous uncertainty through Fall 2017 is so economically costly that everyone realizes a decision must be made and soon.  “Leave” is the only decision which is focal, because of the referendum, and so Leave is set in motion and Article 50 is invoked.  You will note that this scenario, while it sounds plausible, is a bit at odds with waiting until Fall 2017 to begin with.  So the reality of waiting today has to lower the probability of this one somewhat.

5. The trickling, tortuous uncertainty through Fall 2017 is so economically costly that everyone realizes a decision must be made and soon.  “Leave” is a more focal decision, but it still takes years to negotiate and consummate, thereby ensuring the uncertainty continues to kill the British economy.  “Leave” therefore is discarded through political shenanigans and Remain rules the day because only the status quo ex ante can be brought about so quickly.

6. In the meantime, the EU does something really stupid, which includes the steady insulting of the British people and government, and almost everyone in the UK wants to leave by Fall 2017.

6b. In the meantime, Putin does something really stupid, and English opinion shifts strongly to Remain and Remain comes about through emergency national security channels.

7. In the meantime, the French and German elections require those governments to reassert at least partial control over their borders vis-a-vis immigration.  This right is then offered to the UK, if only verbally, and the support for Leave more or less collapses.  There is the beginnings of negotiation for a new EU treaty, in the meantime a bunch of EU nations including the UK break the rules of the old treaty, yet without being punished.  This strikes me as one of the more plausible scenarios.

I get how #4 and #6 pretty clearly lead to actual Brexit, as does one branch of #2, but when you look at these scenarios as a whole, I don’t think the chances for an actual Brexit are so overwhelmingly high.  The key obstacle is getting so many pro-Remain legislators to attach their names and reputations to a scenario which Johnson and Farage already are running away from.  That is just not so easy.

Didn’t the Sex Pistols sing about “…now I got a reason to be waiting”?

Yes, British legislators do have a reason to be waiting.  They are waiting.  Should that reason become stronger or weaker over time?  Why think that “weaker” is so obviously the correct predictive answer?  There is no clear deadline forcing their hand.

In the 1960s and 70s, America and the UK had riots all the time.  I’m not saying this is good!  (Though it did lead to an excellent Clash song.)  But once underway, in fact it is politically acceptable in many situations, or sometimes even politically desirable.

Addendum: Here are a few more points to consider:

a. Parliamentary systems behave very differently when off their steady-state stability path.  There is now a power vacuum, no courts to produce definitive rulings, and the executive and legislative branches of government end up as bankrupt at the same time and in the same ways.  Things are stuck and the traditional local comparative statics simply do not work.  So our usual intuitions for what is supposed to happen in British politics may not be so reliable, and indeed few people had predicted the outcomes the country has received so far, including all the resignations.

b. The status of the Queen will either go up a lot or down a lot.  Many people still believe, if only in inchoate form, that she is there for moments of constitutional crisis.  But a moment of truth is coming where she will have to cough up her creative ambiguity, or not!  If she does nothing, which I consider the more likely scenario, the monarchy will become all the more irrelevant.  If she issues a pronouncement of some kind, she will either be a grand heroine or look pretty bad.

c. In some ways the EU had taken on the “backstop” role formerly held by the British monarchy.  This is not widely understood.  And indeed without the EU, it seems British politics is quite chaotic.  This is a huge embarrassment for the Leave forces, and few if any of them foresaw this or are willing to admit this now.  But that is in fact how British politics has been evolving over decades.  To a keen reader of Bagehot, however, this does not come as a surprise, and it is another reason why the Leave vote was a huge mistake.

A contentious EU-Canada trade agreement is at risk of becoming bogged down in a spat between EU capitals and Brussels over whether national parliaments should get to ratify the deal.

The European Commission has waded into sensitive political territory by suggesting that, legally, the wide-ranging accord could simply be approved by national trade ministers and by the European Parliament to take effect.

While EU leaders are highly supportive of the trade deal, known as CETA, the commission’s push for a streamlined adoption has raised the prospect of an ugly power struggle even as the bloc seeks to cope with the trauma of Britain’s vote last month to leave the EU.

At stake is whether a total of 38 different national parliamentary chambers, including in some cases regional assemblies, should have a binding say. In addition to the commission’s belief that this is not required under the EU’s treaties, a pressing political concern is that it could be the death knell of a deal that took five years to negotiate.

The outcome of the tussle could also have implications for how complicated it will be for post-Brexit Britain to negotiate a trade deal with the EU.

That is from Jim Brundsen and Duncan Robinson at the FT.  And Canadian exports are far more resource-intensive, and less services-intensive, which ought to make that free trade agreement especially easy.

I’ve seen various articles suggesting Britain has only about twenty trade negotiators and the country will look to New Zealand (!) to borrow expertise in this area.  In other words it will rely on immigrants of a sort.  What does that tell you about the level of preparation?

Wolfgang Munchnau on Twitter suggests that Tory leaders can deliver and support only hard forms of Brexit, without EEA or a real trade agreement.  The French are talking about no longer spending the money to cut off migrants in Calais and instead letting them cross the channel so the British can deal with it themselves.

People, this already isn’t going well!

Officials announced that they will now offer families up to NZ$5,000 (about $3,500 US dollars) to relocate to another area of the country.

The relocation grant is specifically for Auckland residents who meet the low-income requirements that make them eligible for social housing, or the city’s subsidized public housing program. The move comes at a time when there are more than 3,500 eligible people in the city waiting to be matched to a home. Forty-two percent of those people identified as Māori, according to the city’s most recent quarterly statement.

Here is the full story, via Richard Kuo.  Auckland has for some while been the world’s largest and most splendid Polynesian city, but perhaps that will not last forever.

Chinese Taylor Swift fans hoping to hedge their heartbreak by insuring against the downturns in the pop star’s love life are now out of luck.

Taobao, China’s largest online marketplace, has cracked down on vendors who were offering “insurance policies” on Swift’s reported relationship with British actor Tom Hiddleston.

The Hiddleswift plan offered double your money if the couple split up. According to China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency, Taobao vendors had begun taking bets on the pop star’s romantic fortunes last week, with the minimum wager set at 1 yuan (15 cents).

Here is the link, via Christopher Balding.

We heard about a lawyer who focuses on cases about malfunctioning automatic garage door openers.

Here is the story and link, via Samir Varma.

That question came up briefly in my chat with Cass Sunstein, though we didn’t get much of a chance to address it.  In the Star Trek world there is virtual reality, personal replicators, powerful weapons, and, it seems, a very high standard of living for most of humanity.  The early portrayals of the planet Vulcan seem rather Spartan, but at least they might pass a basic needs test of sorts, plus there is always catch-up growth to hope for.  The bad conditions seem largely reserved for those enslaved by the bad guys, originally the Klingons and Romulans, with those stories growing more complicated as the series proceeds.

In Star Wars, the early episodes show some very prosperous societies.  Still, droids are abused, there is widespread slavery, lots of people seem to live at subsistence, and eventually much of the galaxy falls under the Jedi Reign of Terror.

Why the difference?  Should we consult Acemoglu and Robinson?  Or is it about economic geography?  I can find think of a few factors differentiating the world of Star Wars from that of Star Trek:

1. The armed forces in Star Trek seem broadly representative of society.  Compare Uhura, Chekhov, and Sulu to the Imperial Storm troopers.

2. Captains Kirk and Picard may be overly narcissistic, but they do not descend into true power madness, unlike various Sith leaders and corrupted Jedi Knights.

3. In Star Trek, any starship can lay waste to a planet, whereas in Star Wars there is a single, centralized Death Star and no way to oppose it, short of having the rebels try to blow it up.  That seems to imply stronger checks and balances in the world of Star Trek.  No single corrupt captain can easily take over the Federation, and so there are always opposing forces.

4. Star Trek embraces analytical egalitarianism, namely that all humans consider themselves part of the same broader species.  There is no special group comparable to the Jedi or the Sith, with special powers or with special whatevers in their blood.  There are various species of aliens, but they are identified as such, they are not in general going to win human elections, and furthermore humans are portrayed as a kind of galactic hegemon, a’ la the United States circa the postwar era.

5. The single individual is much more powerful in the world of Star Wars, due to Jedi and Sith powers, which seems to lower stability.  In the Star Trek world, some of the biggest trouble comes from super-human Khan and his clan, but fortunately they are put down.

6. Star Trek replicators are sufficiently powerful it seems slavery is highly inefficient in that world.  In Star Wars the underlying depreciation rate, as you would find it measured in a Solow model, seems to be higher.  More forced labor is drafted into use to repair all of that wasting capital.

What else?

Addendum: Here is Cass on Star Wars vs. Star Trek.

The author is Benjamin Grob-Fitzgibbon and the subtitle is Britain and Europe from the End of Empire to the rise of Euroscepticism.  It is maybe the best book to read on Britain’s earlier relations with the European Union.  Here is one bit:

The vast majority of the Labour Party was anti-EEC, believing that it was a capitalist conspiracy that would undermine Britain’s control of its own industry.

That was during the 1960s.  And this:

When it awoke on the morning of 1 January 1973 as a full member of the European Economic Community (EEC), the British public was deeply ambivalent.  In a poll taken 3-7 January 1973, 36 percent of the public reported being ‘quite or very pleased’; 33 percent were ‘quite or very displeased’ and an astonishing 20 percent purported to be ‘indifferent’ (the remaining 11 p cent were undecided, but not indifferent.

By August 1973, 52 per cent were opposed and only 32 per cent still in favor.

Definitely recommended, a book for our times.

Speaking at the end of a summit in Brussels where EU leaders started trying to pick through the wreckage after David Cameron’s referendum defeat, Mr Hollande warned that it would be unacceptable for clearing — a crucial stage in trading of derivatives and equities — to take place in the UK.

“The City, which thanks to the EU was able to handle clearing operations for the eurozone, will not be able to do them,” he said. “It can serve as an example for those who seek the end of Europe . . . It can serve as a lesson.”

Here is the FT story.  Note that London’s financial elites don’t need such a warning, whereas to the general citizenry it confirms the portrait of the EU as an anti-British regulatory tyrant.  You may recall France already tried to take clearing rights away from the UK, and that was well before the Brexit vote, so the French don’t exactly have the moral high ground here.  Nor should Hollande pretend that he can speak for the entire EU, as that personalizes the conflict in a way which is unhelpful and takes the EU further away the idea of the rule of law.  Merkel has the better instinct of simply talking to the British calmly and trying to de-escalate the issue.

One argument against Brexit, and in favor of a literal conservatism in many spheres of life, is simply that big changes can induce a lot of stupidity from the other players in the system.  Even though Hollande’s response is in some ways understandable, to pronounce it as if he is the sultan of such matters, and at such a delicate moment, is almost certainly…stupid.

Who else might do something stupid?  Putin?  Juncker?  The Dutch or Austrians?

For many international policy issues, it is worth asking the simple question: “which action or inaction of mine is likely to induce the smallest number of stupid actions in response?”  That won’t always give you the right answer, but often it is a good place to start.