Wednesday assorted links

by on November 22, 2017 at 12:42 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. What should you infer from the cheapness of Costco Single Malt Scotch Whiskey?

2. “Adding to the already somewhat troubling nature of the launch, the event will simultaneously serve as the launch of Hughes’ California gubernatorial campaign…

3. “The Swiss town of Albinen, located in the scenic canton of Valais, wants to pay people 25,000 Swiss francs (£18,900) each to move there.”  Link here.

4. Rebecca Traister and Ross Douthat on the post-Weinstein moment, many of the best parts are toward the end don’t neglect to catch Ross on Andrea Dworkin.

5. Websites that record all of your keystrokes.  The list includes some famous companies.

6. How scalable are blockchains?

7. Geoffrey Manne has a very good WSJ-gated piece on why the AT&T antitrust lawsuit is not a good idea.  Here is a good Puzzanghera and James piece on the case.

In 2013, the Post-Polio Health International (PPHI) organizations estimated that there were six to eight iron lung users in the United States. Now, PPHI executive director Brian Tiburzi says he doesn’t know anyone alive still using the negative-pressure ventilators. This fall, I met three polio survivors who depend on iron lungs. They are among the last few, possibly the last three.”

…In the 1940s and 1950s, hospitals across the country were filled with rows of iron lungs that kept victims alive. Lillard recalls being in rooms packed with metal tubes—especially when there were storms and all the men, women, adults, and children would be moved to the same room so nurses could manually operate the iron lungs if the power went out. “The period of time that it took the nurse to get out of the chair, it seemed like forever because you weren’t breathing,” Lillard said. “You just laid there and you could feel your heart beating and it was just terrifying. The only noise that you can make when you can’t breathe is clicking your tongue. And that whole dark room just sounded like a big room full of chickens just cluck-cluck-clucking. All the nurses were saying, ‘Just a second, you’ll be breathing in just a second.’”

…Mia Farrow only had to spend eight months in an iron lung when she was nine, before going on to become a famous actress and polio advocate.

Here is the full story, via the excellent Samir Varma.

Tuesday assorted links

by on November 21, 2017 at 1:22 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Self-driving cars will be better for wheelchairs.

2. “U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee considered many important banking reforms in 2009-2010 including the Dodd-Frank Act. We show that during this period, the foreclosure starts on delinquent mortgages were delayed in the districts of committee members even though there was no difference in delinquency rates between committee and non-committee districts.”  Link here.

3. Reexamining the economics of NFL draft picks.

4. Bershidsky on Merkel and Germany.

5. Is George Orwell overrated?  I claimed this to Cardiff Garcia just yesterday, at least relative to Huxley.

6. What is up with Northern Ireland? (NYT)  A good and important piece.

7. How a made-up article garnered hundreds of citations.

I will be having a Conversation with him December 4th, by the way, you can register here.  His forthcoming book is spectacular, but we will talk about everything under (and above) the sun, what should I ask him?

Way back when, I considered the ten books that influenced me most, a list I still stand by.  In response, someone asked me to name the books that influenced me, but whose influence I probably was not aware of.  Let’s ignore the semi-contradiction in that request and plow straight ahead!  Here goes, noting that if memory serves I read most of these between the ages of 10 to 12:

1. Alexander Kotov, Think Like a Grandmaster.  From this book I realized you could think you understood a chess position, but then later learn you didn’t really understand it at all.  A huge lesson, one I learned again and to a higher degree when high-quality chess computers came along.  Most of the commentariat on economic and social affairs could use a reminder on this one.  This book also taught me that you learn by doing — trying to solve actual problems — not so much from pure reading.  Or the two in close conjunction.  It may be the distortions of memory, but still I feel this is one of the best books I ever have read.  Hail the Soviet training system!

2. Bobby Fischer, My Sixty Memorable Games of Chess.  Reflects a certain kind of classicism in thinking and method.  Later, it was revealed much of the analysis was faulty and in part was from Larry Evans and not Fischer himself.

3. Reuben Fine, Basic Chess Endings.  I wasn’t influenced so much by this book itself as by a long series of articles in Chess Life and Review, showing the analysis was full of holes.  See my remarks on Kotov.

4. David Kahn, The Code-Breakers, The Story of Secret Writing.  I read this one quite young, and learned that problems are to be solved!  I also developed some sense of what a history could look like and what a history should report.  I recall my uncle thinking it deeply strange that a boy my age should be reading a book of such length.

5. Rudolf McShane and Jakow Trachtenberg, The Trachtenberg System of Basic Mathematics.  From this I learned how powerful the individual human mind could be, and also how much school wasn’t teaching me.  It began to occur to me that the mainstream doesn’t necessarily have the best or only methods.  That said, non-mainstream approaches still have the responsibility of coming up with the right answer.  Query: does it these days ever make sense to actually use this stuff?

6. The Baseball Encyclopedia, or something like that.  From this book I began to figure out statistics and how they fit into broader patterns of historical explanation.  I spent a lot of time with this one even before the age of ten.  It helped me understand my baseball cards in terms of a much longer perspective and also, if I recall correctly, it explained the underlying meaning of many of the statistics, albeit in what would today count as a very naive, non-Moneyball manner.  I still know that Chief Wilson hit 36 triples in 1912.

Honorable mentions: Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and The Joy of Sex, all given to me by my mother.  I believe they helped inculcate some of the 1960s-70s ethos of individual freedom into my thinking.  I also consumed numerous sports memoirs, such as Jerry Kramer’s Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer and also the war memoir Guadalcanal Diary.  From those I began to think about the relationships between character, work habits, teamwork, and success.  The Making of Star Trek helped me master the details of what was then my favorite TV series, and also to think about cosmopolitanism across different kinds of intelligent beings.  In addition to chess I also was influenced by playing paper and dice war games, most of all Barbossa (the exact title may differ slightly), a really scary game where you have to consider the possibility the Nazis could have won and thus think about the contingency of history.  I began to understand that violence could be a reality that stood above all else and how important it was to avoid such a scenario.

Then there is youthful science fiction, though perhaps that someday gets a post of its own.  I read a lot of books about music too, many about jazz solos and chord composition, including in American popular music.  Much earlier, maybe ages 5-8, it was maps and books full of facts about the world (ahem) and animals, most of all the taxonomic arrangement of the animal kingdom.

Finally, at the time I was fully aware that I wasn’t getting a single one of these titles through my formal school system.

Monday assorted links

by on November 20, 2017 at 1:18 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. America is still a suburban nation.

2. “Evidence from applying this framework to these data indicates that between and 45 and 75 percent of the
burden of corporate taxes is borne by labor with the balance borne by capital.”  That estimate seems high to me, but this paper is a serious effort.

3. Germany bans children’s smart watches.

4. “One of the friends who helped her through that period was Ivanka Trump, though their relationship has grown more complicated.”  This article is really quite something.  NYT, you have to keep on reading to grasp the narrative.

5. 100 cryptocurrencies in four words or less.  You can play this game in your car with the children.

6. Most popular names for girls, state-by-state, year-by-year  What is it with Nebraska and “Addison”?

Your Next Government

by on November 20, 2017 at 7:23 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

Google is building a small city within Toronto:

Toronto has about 800 acres of waterfront property awaiting redevelopment, a huge and prime stretch of land that amounts to one of the best opportunities in North America to rethink at scale how housing, streets and infrastructure are built. On Tuesday the government and the group overseeing the land announced that they were partnering with an Alphabet subsidiary, Sidewalk Labs, to develop the site.

Not to be outdone, Bill Gates is thinking even bigger, a 25,000 acre site for a new city near Phoenix that might take advantage of Arizona’s forward thinking rules on self-driving cars.

All over the world, we can see the beginnings of a move from nation-states to smaller, more decentralized and agile communities such as common interest developments, special economic zones and proprietary cities. Your Next Govenment is Tom W. Bell’s primer on this coming revolution. If you want to find out the latest on the Honduran Zede or the Polynesian seasteading project, both of which Bell has been involved with, YNG is your first stop. Bell also covers the history of these movements from Henry Ford’s failed Brazilian city, Fordlandia, to the use of special economic zones and foreign trade zones in the United States.

For anyone starting such a community, Bell has up-to-date recommendations on the principles of governance including how to adopt an appropriate legal code.


1. The situation with North Korea has moved to one of open confrontation.  That said, there are stronger commercial sanctions on North Korea than before, and the attitude of the Chinese does seem to have shifted toward recognizing North Korea as a problem needing to be solved.  For the time being, both the missile tests and the jawboning have stopped, for unknown reasons.  Note that the South Korean and Japanese markets remain high, of course the U.S. market is strong too.

2. Trump has spent a great deal of time with Prime Minister Abe, the real “pivot toward Asia.”  Abe is being treated like the most important leader of the free world — is that crazy?  Merkel is now teetering.

3. The Trump administration has recognized and encouraged a much more explicit semi-military alliance between America and India, also part of the pivot.  China-India relations could be the world’s number one issue moving forward.

4. The apparent “green light” from the Trump administration probably raised the likelihood and extremity of the Saudi purge/coup.  I give this a 20% chance of working out well, though with a big upside if it does.  Whether you like it or not, so far it appears to me this is Trump’s most important initiative.

Just to interject, much of your assessment of the Trump administration should depend on #1-4, and I am worried that is hardly ever the case for those I see around me.  While I do not view the current administration as “good executors” on foreign policy, the remaining variance on #1-4 is still very high and it is not all on the down side.

5. The Trump administration seems to think that keeping production clusters within this nation’s borders is of higher value than shaping the next generation of the world’s trade architecture.  I don’t think they will get much in return for this supposed trade-off, but there you go.

6. I am seeing deeply biased assessments of tax reform, from both sides.  I don’t favor raising the deficit by $1.5 trillion (or possibly more), I do favor cutting corporate rates and targeting some of the most egregious deductions.  I am disappointed that there is not more celebration of the very good features of the plan on the table, that said big changes in the proposed legislation still are needed.

7. In terms of regulatory reform (WSJ), the administration has done better than my most optimistic scenario.  In their worst area, carbon, progress on solar and electric cars is bigger good news than the bad policy news.  And for all practical purposes, the carbon policy of Trump is not much different from that of say Angela Merkel.

8. The suburbs are rebelling against the Republican Party.  There is a decent chance the Republicans will lose the House in 2018, as well as numerous governorships.  Soon we may get a window of a very different Trump, plus more investigations.

9. Various people connected to Trump will be nabbed for crimes and perjuries.

10. Trump has personally “gone after” many political and social norms, but it is not yet clear if they will end up weaker or stronger as a result.  His “grab them…” tape for instance seems, in the final analysis, to have empowered a major rebellion in the opposite direction.  #10 is a major reason why many commentators hate Trump as a person and president, and I can understand that response, but I am myself more focused on what the final outcomes will be and there we do not know.

11. The cultural and intellectual force of liberalism — broadly defined — has been greatly weakened by a mix of Trump and Trump-related forces.  I find this tragic and a major source of despair.

12. I do not favor “a decline in the dignity of the presidency” in the manner we are seeing, but I find many of these criticisms are stand-ins for not liking the substance of what is happening.  I don’t think we know what are the costs (or benefits) are from this transformation of the presidential image.  I could readily imagine those costs are high, but as a sociological matter I am seeing “the dignity of the office of the president has been insulted” as a stand-in for “my dignity has been insulted.”

13. The quality of discourse continues to decline.

Sunday assorted links

by on November 19, 2017 at 11:57 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

Saturday assorted links

by on November 18, 2017 at 1:15 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

Here is a recent paper by Stephen Bond and Jing Xing:

We present new empirical evidence that sector-level capital–output ratios are strongly influenced by corporate tax incentives, as summarised by the tax component of a standard user cost of capital measure. We use sectoral panel data for the USA, Japan, Australia and eleven EU countries over the period 1982–2007. Our panel combines internationally consistent data on capital stocks, value-added and relative prices from the EU KLEMS database with corporate tax measures from the Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation. Our results for equipment investment are particularly robust, and strikingly consistent with the basic economic theory of corporate investment.

Via Henry Curr.  Here is a piece by Fuest, Piechl, and Siegloch, forthcoming in the American Economic Review:

This paper estimates the incidence of corporate taxes on wages using a 20-year panel of German municipalities. Administrative linked employer-employee data allows estimating heterogeneous worker and firrm effects. We set up a general theoretical framework showing that corporate taxes can have a negative effect on wages in various labor market models. Using an event study design, we test the predictions of the theory. Our results indicate that workers bear about 40% of the total tax burden. Empirically, we confirm the importance of both labor market institutions and profit shifting possibilities for the incidence of corporate taxes on wages.

Via Dina D. Pomeranz.  I’ve been reading in this area on and off since the 1980s, and I really don’t think these are phony results.

Friday assorted links

by on November 17, 2017 at 11:23 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. “…broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, and collard greens are all technically the same species, Brassica oleracea.” Link here.

2. “Our bland, featureless Midwest—on some level, it is a fantasy.

3. Does a study of Twitch.tv indicate net neutrality is a bad idea?

4. A dozen business lessons from Waffle House.

5. Tweetstorm on Cheesecake Factory design.

6. “Jones’ choice of hosiery proved most offensive, according to the editor. For the occasion, Jones had chosen a pair of tights — not in a neutral black or gray as is common in the halls of Vogue — but rather a pair covered with illustrated, cartoon foxes.”  Link here.

Thursday assorted links

by on November 16, 2017 at 11:14 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

Here’s the second chapter of our mini-series on business cycle theories: The Monetarists. For the real econ aficionados, today’s video features an un-credited cameo. A free Game of Theories t-shirt to the first person to identify the cameo in the comments.

Wednesday assorted links

by on November 15, 2017 at 2:40 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Who’s sitting next to you on the subway?

2. New results on the returns to education.

3. Meet the people who listen to podcasts at super speed.

4. Those with a college degree gain more from freer trade, but not actually by that much.

5. “Consistent with the reduced form results, the model estimates imply that labor supply factors are responsible for nearly the entire rise of in-and-outs, while changes in labor demand have contributed little…”  Link hereAnd “Our estimates suggest that the decline in product reallocation through these margins has contributed greatly to the slow growth experienced after the Great Recession.”

6. Absent-mindedness as dominance behavior.

7. MIE Hyderabad spot-a-beggar.