Recently I went to a (very good) conference.  As a number of us got off the train and waited near the platform for a ride, we immediately recognized each other as belonging to the same event, even though we had not met each other before.  We were short and tall, male and female, and of varying races, but still we all had “that look”; I leave it as an exercise for the reader to consider what that means.

It occurred to me that many conferences could try to be more diverse.  No, I am not referring to gender or race or ethnicity, although that may be true as well.  I am referring to personality types and life experiences.  Perhaps each conference should have at least one or two people who are not driven to succeed, not the member of any elite group, and not assured of their standing in the world.

What then to select for?  I wondered whether each conference ought not to invite a hitchhiker or two.  Think about hitchhikers, at least as a group on average:

1. They are mobile and not so set in their ways.  They do not evaluate everything in terms of its efficacy and productivity.

2. They are adventurous and willing to engage with strangers.

3. They have not sunk their assets into expensive homes or fancy cars.

4. They wish to see the world and have a minimum amount of restlessness, maybe more.

5. Superficially it may seem that hitchhikers are “stupider than average,” but I suspect relative to their demographics they are smarter than average.

6. They do not schedule their lives so very tightly.

7. Since the late 1970s, fewer people engage in hitchhiking, and this raises their intrinsic interest.  They are trying to resurrect a dying form of social capital, still prevalent mainly in Cuba and Eastern Europe.

8. The groups skews male, but I wonder if any more so than conference attendees more generally.

Most of all, hitchhikers probably have some time to spare.  Send out a car, and offer them a ride and a conference.  Toss in $500 if need be.  They still will be cheaper than reimbursing the travel costs for most of your guests.  Furthermore, when it comes to “getting back,” they can, um…hitch a ride.

If you wish, give them the right to shout out “You must be on drugs!’ or “I wouldn’t give you a ride!” at least once each conference, without fear of being ejected or otherwise shamed.

Again, here is a video on hitchhikers.  They are perhaps the least likely guests to complain about the conference accommodations.

The structure of Bombay is intimately tied to the history of the United States in ways that illustrate the long arc of globalization. At the heart of Bombay, around the Oval Maidan, on which cricket games are often played, one can see many of Bombay’s iconic Victorian buildings including the University of mumbai-high-court-and-rajabai-clock-tower-mumbai-indiaBombay, the Bombay High Court and the Rajabai clock tower. These buildings and many others were begun in the late 1850s and 1860s during the Bombay boom; a boom brought about by America’s Civil War.

The U.S. South began the civil war by embargoing cotton exports and burning 2.5 million bales of cotton in order to create a shortage and bend the world to its will. The embargo didn’t lead to Britain’s support, however, and by the time the South realized it had shot itself in the foot the North imposed its own blockade. Cotton prices skyrocketed–between 1860 and 1863-1864 prices rose by a factor of four on average and at times by a factor of 10. As cotton exports from the United States fell, exports from Persia, Egypt and especially India boomed. As Sven Beckert put it:

The bombardment of Fort Sumter…announced that India’s hour had come.

In India farm land was switched over to cotton, railroads and telegraphs were built uniting cotton producing areas in Bihar with cotton’s chief trading center and port, Bombay. Production and exports boomed. Vast fortunes were made from the cotton trade and the speculation it engendered; fortunes that were plowed into universities, libraries and many of the great buildings that mark Mumbai today. In fact, the Back Bay Reclamation project began at this time so some of the very ground that Mumbai sits upon has its roots in the American Civil War.

Influences flowing in the reverse direction were at least as strong. The decline in cotton exports from the South created mass unemployment in Great Britain and it was not out of the question that Britain would side with the South. Beckert quotes the investment bank Baring Brothers:

In the spring of 1862, Baring Brothers Liverpool expressed their view that war between the United States and Great Britain was less likely “provided we get a large import from India.”

Fortunately, increased Indian cotton production alleviated the “Cotton famine” and reduced the South’s bargaining power. Thus, “Indian cultivators and merchants played a small role in contributing to Northern victory in the Civil War.”

General Robert Lee’s surrender at Appomattox ended the Bombay boom. As news of Lee’s surrender spread, market prices crashed and speculative fortunes were lost. The railways and the telegraphs, however, now linked India to the world. And at the heart of Bombay, the universities, the libraries and the civic institutions endured making Bombay, Urbs Prima in Indis.

Ballycastle was named the best place to live in Northern Ireland in a list compiled by The Sunday Times in 2016.

Link here.  77.7% Catholic, with a lovely 18th century church.  The downtown is thriving and intact, with no real signs of hollowing out.  Virtually all of the shops are not major chains.  People seem to be friendly and helpful.

The town sits on water’s edge, with lovely views.


It has one of the most scenic golf courses in Northern Ireland.  Here are further photos, including of the castle.  Here are photos of downtown.


Reasonable, well-ordered homes, only a few minutes drive from the sea, can be had for not much over one hundred thousand pounds sterling.  As my father used to say “What are we waiting for?”

Northern Ireland remains an underrated region.

That is the part of Northern Ireland along the northern coast, renowned for its scenery.  What is the best way to drive there from Dublin, and what is best to see along the coast?


I thank you all in advance for your guidance, and your extreme intelligence and humility.

That is the subject of a new paper by Joel Waldfogel and Paul M. Vaaler, here is the abstract:

While product differentiation is generally benign, it can be employed to discriminate against customer groups, either to enhance profitability by appealing to discriminatory customers or in unprofitable ways that indulge owners’ tastes for discrimination. We explore discriminatory product differentiation in the airline market through airlines’ depiction of Israel on their online route maps and whether their online menus include kosher meal options. We first show that several international airlines omit Israel from their online route maps. Three of these airlines are members of the major international airline alliances. With data on over 100 airlines, we then document that Israel map denial is more likely for airlines with passengers from countries exhibiting greater anti-Semitism. Owner tastes also matter: denial is more likely for state-owned airlines in countries that do not recognize Israel. Kosher meal options on online menus follow similar patterns, suggesting anti-Semitic rather than anti-Zionist motivations. Israel denial does not reduce the probability of alliance membership with alliance leaders having few airline alternatives to choose from in the Middle East.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Here is one paragraph:

Here is this change in a single number: The interstate migration rate has fallen 51 percent below its 1948–1971 average, and that number has been falling steadily since the mid-1980s. Or, if we look at the rate of moving between counties within a state, it fell 31 percent. The rate of moving within a county fell 38 percent. Those are pretty steep drops for a country that has not changed its fundamental economic or political systems. You might think that information technology (IT) would make it easier to find a job on the other side of the country, and maybe it has, but that has not been the dominant effect. If anything, Americans have used the dynamism of IT to help ourselves stay put, not to move around.

Here is the rest of the piece.  It is not mainly about age demographics, and we have in fact outsourced much of our geographic mobility to immigrants.

Much of the immigration debate has focused on assimilation rates for second and third generation Latinos.  But put that aside and consider the rest of the arrivals.  It is striking to me how very rapidly they assimilate, and I don’t just mean the Canadians (on a given day, could you tell which of the writers of this blog is from north of the border?).  I mean the Russians, the Iranians, the Chinese, the Indians, and many others, including most of the Muslim immigrants.  They don’t become culturally identical to the native-born, but in terms of economic and social indicators, you couldn’t ask for a much better performance.

The assimilation problem in fact comes from the longstanding native-born Americans, often of more traditional stock.  The country around them has changed rapidly, and they do not assimilate so well to the new realities.  And since they are not self-selected migrants who know they will face hardship, they are not always so inclined to internalize a “suck it up” kind of attitude.  Many complain, others settle into niches of failure or mediocre careers.

In this regard, encouraging the actual arriving immigrants to assimilate better or faster can make the actual assimilation problem worse, because it will change the home culture more rapidly too.

Often, the real impact of immigration is not on wages or electoral outcomes, but it is the assimilation burdens placed on some of the longer-standing traditional natives of the home country.  And the more productive and successful the immigrants are, the more serious these problems may become.

I am grateful to the Cato liberaltarian group for a discussion of this issue; I have drawn on remarks from that dialogue, including from Will.

One of my favorites, David was great, here is the link to the podcast, video, and transcript.  Here is the opening summary of the chat:

Named one of the most influential Jewish thinkers of our time, Rabbi David Wolpe joins Tyler in a conversation on flawed leaders, Jewish identity in the modern world, the many portrayals of David, what’s missing in rabbinical training, playing chess on the Sabbath, Srugim, Hasidic philosophy, living in Israel and of course, the durability of creation.

Here are a few bits:

WOLPE: So as my friend Joseph Telushkin says, “Polygamy does exist in the Bible, it’s just never successful.” David does have many wives, and very strained and interesting and complex relationships with women. David has the most complicated and most described relationships with women of any character in the Hebrew Bible.

Those qualities that can be negative, in David are to some extent positive. One of the things that draws David out of the charge of simple narcissism is that he really listens, he pays attention — he pays attention to women over and over again. He listens to what they say and changes himself because of it. And that’s not a characteristic of men in the ancient world or the modern one that you can rely on.


COWEN: So again, I’m an outsider in this dialogue, but say I were thinking of converting to Judaism and I were asking you about Hasidic philosophy. Now in terms of some social connections, I probably would fit better into your congregation than into a Hasidic congregation. But if I ask you, on theological grounds alone, is there a reason why I should be hesitant about Hasidic philosophy? From the point of view of theology, what do you think is the greatest weakness there, or your biggest difference with it, given how much you like Heschel?


COWEN: How would you alter or improve rabbinical training?

WOLPE: I’ve given this a lot of thought. Let me just mention one area. When I speak to rabbinical students, I tell them all the time that the single most valuable commodity you have as a rabbi . . . you can answer that yourself, and then I’ll tell you what I think: your voice. Most people are going to come in contact with you when you speak to them. Not all of them, but most. There’ll be more people who come to your services than the number of people at whose bedside you will sit as they die.

And yet, most rabbis — most people — don’t know how to speak.

There is much more at the link, including about Israeli TV, where to visit in Israel, whether King David parallels Trump, the future of biblical commentary in a world of context-less social media, whether Canadian Jews are more likely to stick with the faith, whether Los Angeles is underrated, what is beautiful and significant in Islam, and the Iran nuclear deal and the settlements, among other topics.  Self-recommending…

And again, here is David Wolpe’s most recent book David: The Divided Heart, which was the centerpiece for the first part of the discussion.

Max Méndez Beck phrased it this way:

what do you think is the most multicultural (minimal segregation while having great ethnic diversity) city in the world?

Toronto springs to mind as a candidate, but it is increasingly expensive and perhaps more ethnically segregated than it used to be or at least more segregated by income and class.  Montreal is gaining on it by this metric.  Sydney is likely in the top ten, but too many parts are posh to be #1.  Sao Paulo has so many ethnicities, but when you get right down to it they are all Brazilians.  Don’t laugh, but Geneva might be in the running, both because of immigrants crowded near the center and the city’s international organizations.  But perhaps I will settle on Brooklyn, which if it were its own city would be the fourth largest in the United States.  (I love Queens, but have a harder time calling it a city.)  Brooklyn has recent arrivals from almost the entire world, and even the very nicest of neighborhoods are usually not so far from the poorer areas.  Still, if you refuse to count Brooklyn, it is striking that Montreal has a real chance of topping this list: wealthy enough to bring in foreigners, not so wealthy as to price them away.

A very good sentence

by on February 6, 2017 at 7:59 am in Current Affairs, Law, Travel | Permalink

“Unless the goal is to have an outright travel ban forever, and we should take the president at his word that that’s not the goal, then let’s just have calmer heads prevail and conduct the security analysis that was going to be conducted during these 90 days.”

Here is the WaPo article, citing Leon Fresco, the deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Immigration Litigation in Obama’s Justice Department.

This might be something for your “markets in everything” series. Swiss (French) TV has uncovered that many orphans in Cambodian orphanages are actually not really orphans. These children are just their to meet the demand of altruistic Swiss to help poor Cambodian orphans. These Swiss actually pay to help a few weeks at an orphanage and to teach English or other things deemed useful (maybe so they can signal how altruistic they are to their friends).

Here’s the original TV report (French):

And here’s an article in a newspaper (German):

That is from an email by Luzius Meisser.

Up from Central Square towards Harvard Square is a stretch of Massachusetts Avenue that is mixed residential and commercial, with metered parking. A few weeks ago I needed to stop at the UPS store there and ship a heavy package. There were no free parking spots so I soon found myself cruising up and down along about a 100 meter stretch, waiting for one to open up. The thought occurred to me that if I had had a level 4 or 5 self driving car I could have left it to do that circling, while I dropped into the store.

Such is the root of anti-social behavior.

And more:

(1) People will jump out of their car at a Starbucks to run in and pick up their order knowingly leaving it not in a legal parking spot, perhaps blocking others, but knowing that it will take care of getting out of the way if some other car needs to move or get by. That will be fine in the case there is no such need, but in the case of need it will slow everything down just a little. And perhaps the owner will be able to set the tolerance on how uncomfortable things have to get before the car moves. Expect to see lots of annoyed people. And before long grocery store parking lots, especially in a storm, will just be a sea of cars improperly parked waiting for their owners.

(2) This is one for the two (autonomous) car family. Suppose someone is going to an event in the evening and there is not much parking nearby. And suppose autonomous cars are now always prowling neighborhoods waiting for their owners to summon them, so it takes a while for any particular car to get through the traffic to the pick up location. Then the two car family may resort to a new trick so that they don’t have to wait quite so long as others for their cars to get to the front door pick up at the conclusion of the big social event. They send one of their cars earlier in the day to find the closest parking spot that it can, and it settles in for a long wait. They use their second car to drop them at the event and send it home immediately. When the event is over their first autonomous car is right there waiting for them–the cost to the commons was a parking spot occupied all day by one of their cars.

In sum:

They are seeing the technical possibilities and not seeing the resistance that will come with autonomous agents invading human spaces, be they too rude or overly polite.

That is by Rodney Brooks, the piece has other points of interest, via Tim Harford.

Stanley Pignal, the new Mumbai-based South Asia correspondent for The Economist, tweeted:

Having landed two hours ago, I’m upgrading myself from “India novice” to “India watcher”. Tomorrow “expert”, next week “veteran”

With that in mind as also applying to me, here are some initial thoughts:

People in India drive on the wrong side of the road and I’m not talking about the fact that they drive on the left.

It’s easier to find a good Indian restaurant in Fairfax than in Bandra.

The quality of the intellectual class relative to GDP per capita is the highest of any country I know.

The quality of the intellectual class at the top is as high as Singapore but in Singapore the intellectual class runs the government.

You can take a 1-hour UBER ride for a $5, A taxi is even cheaper. A 10-minute auto-rickshaw drive is 50 cents.

Google FI worked right off the airplane. If you are coming to India for a week or two it’s great. Oddly, however, all of the Indian apps for food delivery, calling the Indian equivalent of UBER or paying with digital cash only accept an Indian telephone number so I am going to have to get a SIM card. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown, getting a Sim card is a bureaucratic hassle although apparently it’s scheduled to get better.

English is fine for getting around. The surprise is the number of Indians who don’t speak English and yet have to operate in a world in which advertising, signage, operating instructions, and so forth are in English.

Netflix works!

Inequality as measured by a standard Gini index is actually lower in India than in the United States. As measured by what you can see, however, inequality is very high. It’s easy to step out of a Louis-Vuitton boutique and over a child sleeping in the street. Doesn’t appear to be causing a revolution, however.

Crime is low. Much lower than in the United States.

Pollution is high, much higher than in the United States, and at levels that do not seem optimal even give low GDP per capita.

In the developed world you go outside for fresh air. In India you go inside for fresh air. (Many homes and businesses have air purifiers with hepa air filters. I bought two.)

PM Modi wants to bring Elon Musk’s hyperloop technology to India. Delhi to Mumbai in an hour. Mumbai to downtown Mumbai in an hour and a half…on a good day. Start simple!

Retail, one of the largest sectors in many economies including India, is very inefficient. You have to go to a dozen small stores in different parts of town to get half of what you need. I was surprised to see a Walmart in Mumbai on Google maps. Great! I took an Uber. It was fake.

Parts of Mumbai are reminiscent of Havana–elegant buildings put up in earlier times including some art-deco buildings, that are now falling apart and even abandoned due to rent control and poor land use policy. At the same time, Mumbai looks like Miami with much new construction interwoven with the older decay. Capitalist shoots pushing out of socialist pavement.

I very much enjoyed this book.  Think of it as a substance-rich, original on every page exploration of how the space program interacted with the environmental movement, and also with the peace and “Whole Earth” movements of the 1960s.  Most of all it is a social history of technology.  If I heard only that description I might think this is a mood-affiliated load of recycled crud, but in fact it is the best non-research-related book I’ve read in the last month.  Here is one excerpt:

“There is the problem of designing and fitting a spacesuit to accommodate their particular biological needs and functions,” explained one NASA official during the fall of 1960.  The Apollo spacesuit, added another spokesperson more than a decade later, “would be damaging to the soft structures of the feminine body.”  There was also the issue of bodily waste.  By the mid-1960s the space agency had already spent millions of dollars developing a urinary collection device that slid over each crewman’s penis, but the female anatomy, NASA administrators claimed, presented additional engineering difficulties in the weightlessness of space.  “There was no way to manage women’s waste,” argued NASA’s Director of Life Sciences, David Winter. “If you can’t handle a basic physiological need like that, you can’t go anywhere.”  The national media became obsessed with this particular issue, publicizing NASA administrators’ concerns to the broader American public.

Recommended, pre-order it here.

Mark is the most brilliant food mind I have met, here is the opening summary:

Mark Miller is often called the founder of modern southwestern cuisine, but his unique anthropological approach to food has led him to explore cuisines in over 100 countries around the world. He joins Tyler for a conversation on all that he’s learned along the way, including his pick for the most underrated chili pepper, palate coaching, the best food cities in Asia, Mexico, and Europe, the problems with sous-vide, why the Michelin guide is overrated, mezcal versus tequila, the decline of food brands, how to do fast food well, and why the next hipster food trend should be about corn.

Here is the text, audio, and video.  Mark is a blizzard of information density, and I don’t know anyone else who has his experience with the food world, most of all with Asia, Mexico, and the American Southwest.  (You may recall he was an interlocutor in my dialogue with Fuchsia Dunlop, and so we recorded this session with Mark afterwards.)

I thought the highlight was Mark’s six-minute riff on tasting chiles, it really shows Mark in his glory — this is one of those cases where I definitely recommend the video over the text:

Elsewhere in the conversation, see why he picks Seoul, Tokyo, and Bangkok as the three best world cities for food tours.  And:

COWEN: You don’t need brands, right?

MILLER: You don’t need brands anymore. The consumer used to have brands as guide and trust. Today there are other ways of developing that. We’re in consumer level 3. Consumers are defining brands, and how brands get used. I think that the idea of brand is probably — you’re an economist — dated. [laughs]

There is this:

MILLER: You go to a bus station in Monterrey: you can see a hundred of the best tacos in the world.

The questioner was Megan McArdle.  I enjoyed the entire exchange immensely, and hope you do too.