The Arts

Dancing retirements

by on October 19, 2016 at 12:32 am in Economics, The Arts, Uncategorized | Permalink

Dancers are notoriously bad at planning for their second acts. They underestimate the age at which they’ll retire (the average age of retirement is 34), overestimate the amount of money they’ll earn, and misjudge the forces that will end their careers. More than one-third of the dancers in a 2004 survey were driven to retirement by an injury; only 5 percent left because they actually wanted a new career. When dancers enter the workforce in their thirties, many are woefully unprepared. Only 3 percent of current dancers say that teaching dance is their preferred post-retirement line of work, but it’s the most common fate: 53 percent end up teaching dance in some capacity.

And this:

Even during peak earning years: in the U.S., an average dancer’s annual total income is just $35,000—about half of which comes from non-dance activities.

The article is interesting throughout, for instance:

She wants a serious relationship; both of her sisters are married. She’s tried Tinder and recently joined Bumble. For obvious reasons, she doesn’t like the apps that make you fill in your whole biography. Does she miss her old life—the drama, the spotlight? “I don’t think real life has enough glamour,” she says. But she also says that she doesn’t think glamour is “enough to base your life on.”

That is from an Alice Robb Elle profile of Alexandra Ansanelli, a ballerina who retired early, via Annie Lowrey.


Ansanelli is on the far right.

Our industrialized food system nourishes more people, at lower cost, than any comparable system in history. It also exerts a terrifyingly massive influence on our health and our environment. Photographer George Steinmetz spent nearly a year traveling the country to capture that system, in all its scope, grandeur and dizzying scale.

That is the introduction to an excellent NYTimes photo essay on farming. I liked this photo showing a machine for dumping cranberries from a truck: simple but awesome.




That is “Bridging Home,” from Korean artist Do Ho Suh.

The ashes belonged to Capote’s close friend Joanne Carson

The ashes of the author Truman Capote, who wrote In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, was sold at auction for $43,750 in Los Angeles to an anonymous buyer this weekend.

The ashes, which are housed in a sealed wooden Japanese box, originally belonged to the late Joanne Carson, ex-wife of former Tonight Show host Johnny Carson. She was a close friend of Capote, who died at her Bel-Air mansion in 1984.

“We had people from Russia, Germany, China, South America and here in the U.S. who had interest in them,” President and Chief Executive of auction house Julian’s Auctions, Darren Julien, told CNN of the Sept. 24 auction. “I anticipated it could sell for over $10,000, but didn’t anticipate it going to $45,000.”

Here is one story, here are the auction records.  For the pointer I thank Bill.

Here is more from Erik Hurst discussing his new research:

On average, lower-skilled men in their 20s increased “leisure time” by about four hours per week between the early 2000s and 2015. All of us face the same time endowment, so if leisure time is increasing, something else is decreasing. The decline in time spent working facilitated the increase in leisure time for lower-skilled men. The way I measure leisure time is pretty broad; it includes participating in hobbies and hanging out with friends, exercising and watching TV, sleeping, playing games, reading, and so on.

Of that four-hours-per-week increase in leisure, three of those hours were spent playing video games! The average young, lower-skilled, nonemployed man in 2014 spent about two hours per day on video games. That is the average. Twenty-five percent reported playing at least three hours per day. About 10 percent reported playing for six hours per day. The life of these nonworking, lower-skilled young men looks like what my son wishes his life was like now: not in school, not at work, and lots of video games.

How do we know technology is causing the decline in employment for these young men? As of now, I don’t know for sure. But there are suggestive signs in the data that these young, low-skilled men are making some choice to stay home. If we go to surveys that track subjective well-being—surveys that ask people to assess their overall level of happiness—lower-skilled young men in 2014 reported being much happier on average than did lower-skilled men in the early 2000s. This increase in happiness is despite their employment rate falling by 10 percentage points and the increased propensity to be living in their parents’ basement.

It’s hard to distinguish “push” unemployment that is made more pleasant by video games from “pull” unemployment created by video games. I’m not even sure that distinction matters very much, at least if we aren’t talking about banning video games to increase employment. If elderly people started playing a lot of video games (as soon they will) would we worry that this was making retirement too much fun?

I’d be interested in knowing how much video games have displaced television. I watch more television than my kids, who play more video games. It’s not obvious that this is to their detriment.

Perhaps the issue is that video games like slot machines are so enticing that young people discount the future too heavily or don’t recognize the future cost of not being in the workforce. Maybe. Perhaps what we really need is a 3D, virtual reality, total sensory simulation, awesome video game that is so expensive that it encourages people to work.

Overall, the video game worry is a bit too reminiscent of the Dungeons and Dragons panic, or the earlier panics that books and radio were ruining children’s minds, for me to jump on board.

A good sentence to ponder

by on September 14, 2016 at 7:07 pm in History, Music, The Arts | Permalink

Bach heard the St. Matthew Passion four times at most.

That is George Chien, from the September/October issue of Fanfare.

The Art of Kal Mansur

by on August 31, 2016 at 7:35 am in The Arts | Permalink

I’m a fan of the work of Canadian artist, Kal Mansur (whom I have known since high school). Photos of his work look like paintings but they are more like sculptures. Underneath the surface are sculptural elements that refract and diffuse the light. In person these pieces have a glow and they look subtly different at different angles or in different light.

Kal has an exhibition at George Billis in New York, Sep 1-Oct 1, 2016, with opening reception Sept. 1, 6-8 pm if you are interested or see the link above. Tell him Alex said hello.



No, that is not enlightenment about life, that is enlightenment about Enlightenment, as in the eighteenth century phenomenon.  P., a loyal MR reader, wrote to me with such a request, noting correctly that “I usually find that broad, ambitious survey books are not the answer.”

That survey would be Peter Gay, recently a bestseller in China by the way, and then Ernst Cassirer, Jonathan Israel, and Roy Porter, but let me outline an alternative program of study.  The goal here is to be practical, engaging, and vivid, not comprehensive or scholarly per se:


Geoffrey Clive’s short book The Romantic Enlightenment.

James Boswell, Journals, selected excerpts, he was an early blogger by the way, and David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.  I find that to be one of the wittiest of books.  Plus Hume’s Essays.

Diderot, Rameau’s Nephew, and Rousseau’s Second Discourse.  Condorcet, Essay on the Progress of the Human Mind.  Voltaire I consider overrated.

Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, yes I know it is arguably “anti-Enlightenment,” better yet.  If you insist on another Irishman, Bishop Berkeley is an entertaining writer as well.

Founding documents of the United States, and Ben Franklin, Autobiography.

Kant, Perpetual Peace, “What is Enlightenment?”, and Lessing, Nathan the Wise.

Beccaria, Of Crimes and Punishments.

If you have the time to tackle longer books, start with Smith’s Wealth of Nations and Boswell’s Life of Johnson and then Casanova and Tristram Shandy (there is by the way a splendid book on the postmodern in the Enlightenment but I can no longer remember the cite).  Leave Montesquieu to the Straussians, although the returns are high if you are so inclined.

For history, read up on eighteenth century scientific societies, Robert Darnton on the rise of publishing and the book trade, Habermas on the coffeehouse debate culture and the public sphere, and Brewer and McKendrick on the rise of consumer society in England.  Try Wikipedia for Catherine the Great, Frederick the Great, and other rulers of the time.  There is also Margaret C. Jacob, The Radical Enlightenment, and books on 18th century Freemasonry.  The French Revolution seems to require its own blog post, as does the Industrial Revolution, slavery too, in a pinch resort to the MR search function box on this blog.  Foucault will give you a sense of the dark side of the Enlightenment, his history is unreliable but read him on Discipline and Punishment and on ideology try the rather dense The Order of Things.

That all said, I would start with music and the arts first.


Haydn, the London symphonies and late piano sonatas and string quartets Op.76.

Mozart, the major operas, including reading through the libretti while listening.  If you can only do one thing on this list…

Gluck, assorted operas, noting he is not nearly the equal of Haydn or Mozart as a composer but he did capture the spirit of Enlightenment.

C.P.E. Bach, the Prussian Sonatas.


Study French painting from Chardin through David, picture books will do if you can’t visit the original works.  Focus on Watteau, Boucher, Fragonard, Vigée-Le Brun, Boilly, Hubert Robert, and others, how their works tie into the history of the period and how the styles transformed over time.  Visit Paris, Huntington Gardens, and Tiepolo’s work in the Residenz in Würzburg.  Do a tour of Georgian architecture in England, in a pinch visit the derivative works at Harvard, Yale, and Alexandria, Virginia.  Study Tiepolo more generally, Goya, and also Antonio Canova.



Why not?  I’ll toss up Dangerous Liaisons (Vadim and Malkovich versions), Barry Lyndon, Casanova, Amadeus, A Royal Affair (can’t forget Denmark!), Marie Antoinette, Ridicule, and The Madness of King George.

What did I leave out that is of utmost importance?

City_ArtMichael Heizer, the large-scale sculpture artist, has been building City, a sculpture in the Nevada desert since 1972. City is reputedly on the scale of the Washington, DC’s National Mall and something like Teotihuacan but no one knows for sure since “Visitors are explicitly not welcome, and due to its orientation away from the road and system of earthen berms no part of “City” can be viewed from the ground without trespassing on posted property.” A few photos have been smuggled out.

The New Yorker has an interesting article on Heizer. Naturally I appreciated his thoughtful consideration of the economics of building something for the ages:

“City” is made almost entirely from rocks, sand, and concrete that Heizer has mined and mixed on site. The use of valueless materials is strategic, a hedge against what he sees as inevitable future social unrest. “My good friend Richard Serra is building out of military-grade steel,” he says. “That stuff will all get melted down. Why do I think that? Incans, Olmecs, Aztecs—their finest works of art were all pillaged, razed, broken apart, and their gold was melted down. When they come out here to fuck my ‘City’ sculpture up, they’ll realize it takes more energy to wreck it than it’s worth.”

Here is the summary:

The stereotypical obituary is a formulaic recitation of facts — dry, boring, and without craft. But Margalit Fox has shown the genre can produce some of the most memorable and moving stories in journalism. Exploiting its “pure narrative arc,” Fox has penned over 1,200 obituaries, covering well-known and obscure subjects with equal aplomb.

In her conversation with Tyler Cowen, Fox reveals not only the process for writing an obituary, but her thoughts on life, death, storytelling, puzzle-solving, her favorite cellist, and how it came to be that an economist sang opera 86 times at the Met.

Here are the transcript, video, and podcast versions of the dialogue.  Here is one excerpt:

FOX: …Things happen. But in general, we try to have a certain level of preparedness with the major figures. We do indeed have the advance obits — all but the top, as it were — written, edited, on file. We have about 1,700.

That said, the vast majority of what my colleagues and I down in the trenches do, probably 90 percent of our working life, are daily obits that are found out about, reported, written, edited, copyedited, put in the paper all in the space of a single day, just like any other article in the paper.

And this:

COWEN: Are there obituaries of economists that stand out in your mind? Or maybe some you’ve written?

FOX: Well, interestingly, there is one. As I said, my original training was in classical music, so my editors almost jumped out of their skins with excitement when they discovered they could assign me the obituary of a Harvard economist named Richard T. Gill.

Now, why did they give that to me? Because as we say in the lede of the obit, “Richard T. Gill, in all statistical probability the only Harvard economist to sing 86 performances with the Metropolitan Opera, died,” etc., etc.

COWEN: Yes, I remember reading that one. That was before I knew that you were you.

FOX: I was me then. You just didn’t know it.

COWEN: Correct.

Do read the whole thing.  I asked her about privacy concerns, how well a famous person is really known by his or her family and friends, whether there should be affirmative action in the obituaries section, who is chosen for this exclusive club and why, what one learns reading obituaries (“death sucks”), what is underrated in life (“silence”), why British obituaries are different, and about her very good books on linguistic code cracking from antiquity and Bedouin sign language.  And more.

Here is the Conversations with Tyler series.  Here is basic information on Margalit Fox.  Here is Margalit Fox on Twitter.

A few of you have asked, I considered that question in 2012, here is a significantly revised update:

1. Now I know how to text, sort of, though I hardly ever do it.  It strikes me as the worst and most inefficient technology of communication ever invented (seriously).  It’s not that fast, and it’s broken up into tiny bits of back and forth.  I don’t see how it makes sense beyond the “What should I get at the supermarket? — Blueberries” level.  There is intertemporal substitution, so just, at some other point in time, spend more time talking, writing longer letters, making love, whatever.  Not texting.  It is never the best thing to be doing, except to answer some very well-defined question.

2. I now carry only one iPad around, as I donated my spare iPad to a poor Mexican family.  I use it very often for directions, book and restaurant reviews, and general life advice.  Plus email and keeping current on my Twitter feed.  I simply don’t want a screen any smaller than that.  My iPad now also has a rather pronounced crack on the front glass, but that adds to its artistic value.  I dare not drop it again.

3. I have an iPhone, which I hardly ever use for anything.  Occasionally someone calls me on it, or I use it to check email in situations when it might be rude to pull out the iPad.  Other times I am rude, but it’s actually a form of flattery if I am willing to check my iPad in front of you.  You may not feel flattered, however.

3b. Except for the occasional Uber ride, I don”t use apps and hate reading news sites through the apps, I won’t do it.  I’m used to the web, not your app, and I hope I can get away with being a stubborn grouch on this forever.

4. I now have a Bloomberg terminal, which is very cool.  It is amazing that a product designed in the “before the internet as we know it” era still is the clear market leader and the best option.  Bloomberg is a great company with a great product(s).  Right now I can do about 5 of the 25,000 separate commands, but the fault is mine not theirs.  In the meantime, send me email at my gmu address, not what is listed on the Bloomberg column.

5. I use my Kindle less over time.  It remains in that nebulous “fine” category, but I prefer “real books.”  Kindle is best for works of fiction when I know in advance I wish to read every page in the proper order.  I am continuing with my long-range plan to read Calvin’s Institutes on my Kindle, bit by bit, in between other works.  This will take me ten years, but a) he is a brilliant mind, and b) in the meantime I won’t lose sight of the plot line.

6. I have a new Lenovo laptop, sleek and fast, plus some computers at work.  I don’t even know what they are, but probably they are quite subpar.

Way more iPad and way less texting are I suppose the main ways in which I deviate from the dominant status quo.  Come join me in this and we shall conquer the world.

I asked that question of Michael Orthofer, and his answer was this:

Underrated, I would absolutely think the regional language and literature of India. I think surprisingly, even though, perhaps, English is the main literary language of India and a great deal is locally translated, even there much of the vernacular literature still isn’t available in English.

What one can see of it and also in part hear about it — we’re missing an awful lot. There is a literary culture there, especially, for example, in Bengali, but we’ve had that since Tagore. One of the remarkable things is Tagore won his Nobel prize over a hundred years ago, and there are still novels by him which haven’t been translated into English. He is really a very good novelist.

It’s truly worthwhile, and this goes for many regions. The southern region of Kerala where they write in Malayalam — there’s remarkable literary production there, and we just see so little of it.

My inclination was to suggest Chile.  Here’s why this country of below 18 million people is nonetheless a fierce literary contender:

1. Pablo Neruda was one of the two or three best poets of the latter part of the twentieth century.   His Canto general is not his best poetic work but as a general statement of the history and underlying unity of the New World it is unparalleled.  Gabriela Mistral is noteworthy too.

2. José Donoso’s The Obscene Bird of the Night is one of the very best Latin novels, yet it is hardly read these days, I am not sure why.  I think it is clearly better than say One Hundred Years of Solitude.

3. Roberto Bolaño is probably the most important Latin author post-García Márquez, and he is from Chile, though he wrote much more about Mexico.

4. Antonio Skármeta isn’t even a top figure in this lineage yet he is still quite good, the same holds for Ariel Dorfman (born in Argentina, moved to Chile shortly afterwards), Alejandro Zambra, and yes Isabel Allende, who is the Chilean author most in the public eye in the United States.  She is usually too sentimental for my taste but some of it I enjoy nonetheless.

And why is Chile underrated?  Well, when you are there it feels fairly provincial — just ask a Porteño.  Bolaño didn’t stick around and more generally exile from Pinochet prevented the creation of any well-defined group or movement.  The Pinochet years also gave Chile a…shall we say…non-artistic reputation, and finally both Neruda and Doñoso don’t translate so well out of the Spanish.

Do you have an alternative choice?

That is the latest entry in the Conversations with Tyler series, here is the transcript, audio, and video.  Here is the overview:

Michael Orthofer, one of the world’s most prolific book reviewers, joins Tyler Cowen for a conversation on — what else? — books. Read to discover why Michael believes everyone should read more fiction, how we should choose books, why American popular literature is overrated, what he thinks about authors like Herman Melville, Fyoder Dostoevsky, Goethe, J.K. Rowling, Arno Schmidt, and many others, his recommendations for the best sites for readers, why studying literature at college was such a big disappointment, how much book covers matter, and why his opinion will never be the final word.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Here’s another life hack which I totally reject, but it may just be because I’m an addict of sorts. You tell me why, for you, it’s wrong.

A lot of people say to me, “Well, I love fiction, but I’m never going to read new works because I can’t tell what’s really good. I’ll just wait 20 years and then look back on what was truly excellent from 20 years ago and read that 20 years later. In the meantime, now I’ll just read classics or things in other areas which are verified as being truly excellent.” Does that make sense?

ORTHOFER: I worry very much about people who rely on what gets that stamp of approval. Just because it has a cover review in the New York Times Book Review does not mean that that book really is, if we look at it from five or ten years down the road — that that book will still be a significant work. I find so much which is highly praised at any one point long‑term won’t be. Again, however — .

Another question:

COWEN: If we take American citizens, who are not necessarily the people who read you, but at the margin, we could give them more nonfiction, we could give them more travel, we could give them more fiction, or we could actually give them more of some really good TV, which of those things are we rooting for them to do more of, at the margin?

And this exchange:

COWEN: Bottom’s Dream. Most people have never heard of Arno Schmidt.

ORTHOFER: Regrettably, no.

COWEN: We have a chance now to read his masterwork. Some of his others are in English already. Tell us why we should care.

COWEN: But you giggled when you read Bottom’s Dream, right?


COWEN: You giggled a lot.

ORTHOFER: The English edition, I think, is just under 1,500 pages.

COWEN: A mere pittance compared to Dream of the Red Chamber, right?

Do read the whole thing.

Here is my short review of Michael’s big book on world literature: “If you measure book quality by the actual marginal product of the text, this is one of the best books written, ever.  Reading the manuscript in draft form induced me to a) write an enthusiastic blurb, and b) order about forty items through Amazon, mostly used of course.  The book is basically a comprehensive guide to what is valuable and interesting in recently translated world literature, a meta-book so to speak, with extensive coverage of most of the countries you might want.”  And here is Michael’s blog.  You can order Michael’s book here.

Here is Erik Hurst, from an excellent piece profiling Erik Hurst:

Right now, I’m gathering facts about the possible mechanisms at play, beginning with a hard look at time-use by young men with less than a four-year degree. In the 2000s, employment rates for this group dropped sharply – more than in any other group. We have determined that, in general, they are not going back to school or switching careers, so what are they doing with their time? The hours that they are not working have been replaced almost one for one with leisure time. Seventy-five percent of this new leisure time falls into one category: video games. The average low-skilled, unemployed man in this group plays video games an average of 12, and sometimes upwards of 30 hours per week. This change marks a relatively major shift that makes me question its effect on their attachment to the labor market.

To answer that question, I researched what fraction of these unemployed gamers from 2000 were also idle the previous year. A staggering 22% – almost one quarter – of unemployed young men did not work the previous year either. These individuals are living with parents or relatives, and happiness surveys actually indicate that they quite content compared to their peers, making it hard to argue that some sort of constraint, like they are miserable because they can’t find a job, is causing them to play video games.

This problem, if that is the right word for it, will not be easily solved.

Claims about clutter

by on July 2, 2016 at 11:09 am in Books, Education, Science, The Arts | Permalink

Tidy by category, not by location

One of the most common mistakes people make is to tidy room by room.  This approach doesn’t work because people think they have tied up when in fact they have only shuffled their things around from one location to another or scattered items in the same category around the house, making it impossible to get an accurate grasp of the volume of things they actually own.

The correct approach is to tidy by category.  This means tidying up all the things in the same category in one go.  For example, when tidying the clothes category, the first step is to gather every item of clothing from the entire house in one spot.  This allows you to see objectively exactly how much you have.  Confronted with an enormous mound of clothes, you will also be forced to acknowledge how poorly you have been treating your possessions.  It’s very important to get an accurate grasp of the sheer volume for each category.

That is from Marie Kondo, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Guide to the Japanese Art of Tidying, a recommended book.  Also never tidy the kitchen first, do not keep make-up and skin care products together, and “…the first step in tidying is to get rid of things that don’t spark joy.”

I have a related tip.  If you want to do a truly significant clean-up, focus only on those problems which are not immediately visible.  This will help you build efficient systems, and prepare the way for more systematic solutions to your clutter problems.  You’ll then be prompted to take care of the visible problems in any case.  If you focus on the visible problems instead, you will solve them for a day or two but they will rapidly reemerge because the overall quality of your systems has not improved.