Tuesday assorted links

by on March 28, 2017 at 12:04 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

Wil Wade emails me some very interesting points:

As someone who has changed jobs a fair amount and recently, I thought I might be able to give some ideas on why better matching and results decreases mobility. Some of these might be fairly easy to set up tests for. (Note I am a programmer, someone with many job prospects in almost anywhere I could want, so salt as desired.)

1. You think you will find something. Everywhere has lots of jobs posted, so if feels like if you just wait until tomorrow, that job in your area will pop up. Why look at another city, when your city posts 100 new jobs a day (none of which will be good for you, but you don’t know that)

2. Perhaps especially in white collar jobs, you never get a job from a job posting. Never is a bit strong, but your network leads to most jobs. (of the 5 jobs I have had in the ~10 years since graduating, three of those were network based) The less mobile your network, the less mobile you can be.

3. Comparisons are really hard to make when cost of living varies so much. I do not know if the variance in cost of living has increased over the past 30 years, but I do know that it feels really high. As a programmer I easily could move to any of the large cities SF, LA, NYC. But the cost of living adjustment is really hard to make. And currently impossible to make at an I could move anywhere level.

Monday assorted links

by on March 27, 2017 at 1:09 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

I don’t usually “go after” news stories and headlines but this one is such a bad mistake, and it so affected my Twitter feed (I was swindled too), that it deserves comment (the pointer by the way comes from Alex, our Alex).  Stephanie Saul wrote in The New York Times:

Nearly 40 percent of colleges are reporting overall declines in applications from international students, according to a survey

Here is what the opening of the survey itself said:

39% of responding institutions reported a decline in international applications, 35% reported an increase, and 26% reported no change in applicant numbers.

The NYT article does not reproduce the more positive pieces of information, from its own cited study, which may be suggesting international applications are not down at all, or perhaps down by only a small amount.  If you look at all the data, they probably are down, but by no conceivable stretch of the imagination should the 40% figure be reported without the other numbers.  The headline of the piece?:

Amid ‘Trump Effect’ Fear, 40% of Colleges See Dip in Foreign Applicants

I look forward to not only a correction but in fact a retraction of the entire article and its headline.

Hint: Trump is not working with Paul Ryan to disassemble Medicare as we know it.

Those of us who predicted gridlock, stasis, and an excessively weak Trump presidency are so far right.  Hardly anything has gotten through, though we have managed to scare off 40% of the potential foreign applicants for higher education, one of America’s most successful export industries.  Tax reform, which is not an ideological touchstone, won’t be easy, and the Republicans have not reached prior agreement on many of the (numerous) details.  Russia will continue in the headlines.  The weakness of political parties remains an underlying theme.  Overall, it is good that health care reform is off the table for now, because superior alternatives were not likely to result.

Is it good or bad, all things considered, that foreign governments are seeing increasing latitude to ignore Trump’s threats?  And why exactly does Trump dislike Germany so much?

By the way, the end of global QE is rapidly approaching, with U.S., European, and possibly Chinese central banks all tightening at about the same time; maybe that’s the real news!

Addendum: Alex writes to me:

39% of responding institutions reported a decline in international applications, 35% reported an increase, and 26% reported no change in applicant numbers.


Christina, an apparent MR reader, asked me whether it is really true that AI helps military defense more than military offense, as was previously argued by Eric Schmidt.  I can think of a few parallel cases:

1. In chess, AI clearly has helped the defense.  Top computer programs never play 32-move brilliant sacrifice victories against each other, a’ la Mikhail Tal.  Most games are drawn, and a victory tends to be long and protracted.  (Do note it is sometimes better to get the war over with and lose right away.)

2. In the NBA, analytics have helped offense more, for instance by showing that more attempted shots should be three-pointers.  Analytics of course is not AI, but you can consider it a more primitive form of using information technology to improve decisions.

3. It is interesting to ponder the differences between chess and the NBA as potential analogies.  In chess, the attack often “plays itself,” as the player with the initiative may be following fairly standard strategies of bringing the Queen and some lesser pieces in the neighborhood of the opposing King, or maybe just capturing material.  Finding the correct defense is often a more complex matter, and the higher quality of the chess-playing programs thus boosts defense more than offense.  Besides, under perfect information chess is almost certainly a draw, and the use of AI asymptotically approaches that outcome.

In professional basketball, the offense typically has more options and permutations, and given any offensive decisions, the defense often respond in fairly typical fashion, such as lunging at the player attempting a shot, or doubling Stephen Curry as he crosses the half-court line.  In those cases where the defense has more options, however, analytics conceivably could help basketball defense more than offense.  A (hypothetical) example of this would be using game tape and AI to see which kinds of tugs on the jersey best disrupt the shot or rhythm of the team’s leading scorer.  That said, most of the action seems to be in honing the options for the offense.

4. Is warfare more like chess or more like the NBA?

I believe the USA has more options in most of its conflicts, and thus AI will help the United States, at least at first.

In the Second World War the Nazis had more options than their opponents.  In the Civil War and American Revolution, however, the available offense was more static and predictable, and AI for those fighting forces might have helped the defense more.  In the Iran-Iraq war I suspect the defense had more options too.  Terror groups have more meaningful options than the forces defending against terror, and thus AI might help terror groups more than the defense, at least provided they had equal access to the data and to the technology (which is doubtful at this point, still as part of the exercise this is useful).

5. One important qualifier is that the chess and NBA examples already assume a game is on to be played.  A war, in contrast, is started as a matter of volition on at least one side.  If AI creates a new arms race of sorts, where one side at times opens up a decisive lead, that may provoke more decisions to engage and thus attack.  The mere fact that AI increases the variance in the power gap between the two sides may increase the number of attacks and thus wars.

So there is more to this question than meets the eye at first, and I have only begun to engage with it.

Addendum: AI is also spreading in the legal world, will this help defendants or plaintiffs more?

Sunday assorted links

by on March 26, 2017 at 2:41 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

The new George Steiner book

by on March 26, 2017 at 1:51 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

George Steiner, with Laure Adler, A Long Saturday: Conversations.  Steiner is one of the most knowledgeable people, even into his 90s.  From these conversations I learned that he started working for The Economist as an economics reporter after WWII, computers drive us to a notion of “minimal language,” “God is Kafka’s uncle,” he recommends North, by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, and Ben-Gurion once told him “Only one thing matters: send me your children.”  By the way, “Malraux predicted that the religious wars of the twenty-first century would be the greatest in history.”

Definitely recommended.

Saturday assorted links

by on March 25, 2017 at 11:20 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

*Ties*, by Domenico Starnone

by on March 25, 2017 at 2:45 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

This is one of the better Italian novels of the last few decades, and this year’s first fiction must-read.  It is short, easy to comprehend, utterly compelling, and the basic story line is that of a married couple and their children, to say more would spoil the plot.  The introduction and translation are by Jhumpa Lahiri, also first-rate (by the way, here is my conversation with Jhumpa, toward the end she discusses this project).

Here is the Amazon link.   This Rachel Donadio NYT review provides some very useful background knowledge.

Friday assorted links

by on March 24, 2017 at 11:42 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

Let’s say you believe that a flood of forthcoming warrior-entrepreneurs will create exciting new products and earn high rates of return on their capital; associated venture capitalists will benefit too.

That might sound quite optimistic, and in one regard it is.  But the high returns also indicate that the status quo ex ante is in some way deficient.  Had the earlier entrepreneurs done better, the opportunities for these new creators might have been less.  In a sense, the prediction is also an (implied) pessimistic take on the current world as it stands.  The overall state of affairs may be less positive than many others believe.

The mood states of “optimism” and “pessimism” are often misleading ways of classifying or thinking about people’s views on the economy, or indeed about other matters too.  Those descriptors do not distinguish between attitudes toward likely final outcomes, as opposed to attitudes about benchmarks and constraints.

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.

Thursday assorted links

by on March 23, 2017 at 11:21 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Digital prescriptions to limit opioid abuse?

2. More on violations of covered interest parity.

3. How serious a problem is crony capitalism?

4. Bethany McLean reviews Complacent Class; I would say she is too hung up on thinking this has to be a book about whom to raise and lower in status.  You can see this at the end most clearly when she thinks I must be saying that China is somehow better than the United States.

5. David Henderson reviews Complacent Class.

6. Luddite sex workers in Spain shut down robot brothel? (NB: tabloid source, plus video at the link)

7. Are companies getting worse at R&D?

Wednesday assorted links

by on March 22, 2017 at 1:12 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink