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Tuesday assorted links

by on September 1, 2015 at 11:29 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Laura Miller on Elena Ferrante.

2. In praise of law reviews and jargon-filled academic writing.  And more on the marginal value of a good teacher.

3. Why do people do good spontaneously?  And Harvard responds to complaints about its faculty health planMore on the crack team of Chinese monkeysDramatic but not ridiculous claims about China.

4. Scott Sumner dissents on reach for yield.  I don’t think easier money will boost the American economy right now.  So I think you just get a loanable funds effect and then possibly a reach for yield.

5. Peak things?

6. “The world’s longest yard sale runs for nearly 700 miles along a mostly vertical line connecting Alabama and Michigan, from the first Thursday in August through the first Sunday. It’s called the 127 Sale, since most of it takes place along US Route 127, but that road ends in Chattanooga.

Facts about Mexicans

by on September 1, 2015 at 1:36 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

In 2012, 5.9 million unauthorized immigrants from Mexico lived in the U.S., down about 1 million from 2007. Despite the drop, Mexicans still make up a slight majority (52% in 2012) of unauthorized immigrants. At the same time, unauthorized immigration overall has leveled off in recent years. As a result, net migration from Mexico likely reached zero in 2010, and since then more Mexicans have left the U.S. than have arrived.

There is more at the link, might I have found this reference through Michael Clemens?

From the FT:

The likes of Zambia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya, Ghana, Senegal, and Ivory Coast have all issued foreign currency dominated sovereign bonds in recent years.

Ghana is one African nation with a history of debt crises (pdf), and also dating back to the 1980s (pdf).  Tanzania was another offender, both current and past (pdf), and for a while a lot of lending to Africa dried up and that limited the number of possible debt crises.  But now…?

Here is Amadou Sy at Brookings, telling us it is not yet time to worry.  Here is the African Development Bank worrying a bit more than that:

Today, a third of African countries have debt to GDP ratios in excess of 40 percent. The outstanding sovereign debt for Africa as a whole increased 2.6 times between 2009Q2 and 2015Q2. In contrast, total debt in developing countries rose 2.3 times over the same period. The appreciation of the dollar has raised the nominal currency values of dollar denominated debts. Thus Africa’s outstanding bond debt is already 29 percent higher today in real terms than it would have been had the dollar remained at its March 2011 level…

Here is Andrew England at the FT:

A recent note by Fathom Consulting highlighted a 40 per cent year-on-year dip in Chinese imports from Africa for July. Martyn Davies, chief executive of Frontier Advisory, a group that specialises in Africa-China investment, says there is anecdotal evidence of an easing in Chinese activity on the continent. “The hurdle rates of Chinese sovereign wealth investment, or part sovereign wealth fund invested projects in Africa have been raised so the capital is more discerning and seeks greater profitability,” he says.

Here is my previous post on which countries are most likely to experience the next financial crises.

Monday assorted links

by on August 31, 2015 at 1:07 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Human capital leading up to the Industrial Revolution.

2. How will European cinema fare under a single digital market?  “Is he a collaborator?”

3. In America, is there too much TV?

4.  What the Chinese 2008 stimulus looked like.  And the Chinese use a bevy of animals to clear the parade skies.

5. How is the Greek election shaping upExit interview with Olivier Blanchard.

6. Consumption inequality tracks income inequality by more than we used to think.  Is scalping ruining the Disney dining experience?

Will Syria *ever* come back?

by on August 31, 2015 at 7:07 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

In just 4 years, over half of Syria’s population of 22m has been killed, displaced or fled the country.

Tweet here, by Paul Kirby.

Sunday assorted links

by on August 30, 2015 at 5:16 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Ten misunderstandings about beer (the culture that is China).  And does “ethical food” taste better?

2. Oliver Burkeman makes claims about sleep.

3. Interview about microscopes and other things.

4. The Manchurian recession.

5. Ruth Leger Sivard has passed away: “With what she knows, she has every right to get on a rooftop and scream,” Washington Post columnist Colman McCarthy wrote in 1986. “Instead, after 10 years of analyzing what 142 of the planet’s governments spend their citizens’ money on, she remains a clarifier. The field is small. Few are as skilled.”

6. Various airport ratings, including which countries’ citizens rate airports the highest and lowest.

Utah fact (estimate) of the day

by on August 30, 2015 at 11:10 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

One of my web searches turned up a study from Trinity College’s American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) on the demographics of Mormons. According to the ARIS study, there are now 150 Mormon women for every 100 Mormon men in the state of Utah—a 50 percent oversupply of women.

The article considers data on Orthodox Jews as well, via Jodi Ettenberg.

Solve for the equilibrium, as they say, and please consider as many different variables as possible…

A very good paragraph and a half

by on August 29, 2015 at 3:06 pm in Books, Uncategorized | Permalink

Claire Messud on Elena Ferrante in the FT:

…the novelist remains true to her broadest undertaking: to write, with as much honesty as possible, the unadorned emotional truths of Elena Greco’s life, from timid peasant schoolgirl to respected literary icon, riven always between her origins and her ambitions, between her intellectual pursuits, her romantic desires, and her maternal responsibilities — always with Lila as her fractured mirror.

I’ve pressed Ferrante’s novels on friends with mixed results. Some fall upon the books with a familiar eagerness, but by no means all: one woman said, of My Brilliant Friend, “How’s it different from Judy Blume? Just girls getting their periods.” But I end up thinking that the people who don’t see Ferrante’s genius are those who can’t face her uncomfortable truths: that women’s friendships are as much about hatred as love; that our projections determine our stories as much as does any fact; that we carry our origins, indelibly, to our graves. To imbue fiction with the undiluted energy of life — to make of it not just words upon a page but a visceral force — is the greatest artistic achievement, worth more than any pretty sentences: Ferrante has done this, if not perfectly, then with a rare brilliance.

Here is a good review of Ferrante from The Economist.  As I’ve been saying for a while, this is one of the important literary projects over the last decade or more.  And of course we still don’t know who Elena Ferrante really is, her (his?) true identity remains a secret.  And here is the new Vanity Fair interview with Ferrante.

Saturday assorted links

by on August 29, 2015 at 12:56 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Which Republican candidates actually cut government spending?

2. Will the financial mainstream pick up on the block chain idea?

3. Emmanuel Todd is getting himself in trouble.

4. When it comes to travel, skip the iconic.

5. Claims from Donald Trump.

6. Interview with Josiah Ober on ancient Greece.

7. “But we are not utilitarians. We are Americans.”  Is there a coming car revolution?

Here is the academic paper, by William Easterly, and Laura Freschi, and Steven Pennings:

Economic development is usually analyzed at the national level, but the literature on creative destruction and misallocation suggests the importance of understanding what is happening at much smaller units. This paper does a development case study at an extreme micro level (one city block in New York City), but over a long period of time (four centuries). We find that (i) development involves many changes in production as comparative advantage evolves and (ii) most of these changes were unexpected (“surprises”). As one episode from the block’s history illustrates, it is difficult for prescriptive planners to anticipate changes in comparative advantage, and it is easy for regulations to stifle creative destruction and to create misallocation. If economic growth indeed has a large component for increases in productivity through reallocation and innovation, we argue that the micro-level is important for understanding development at the national level.

It is a block on Greene St., near NYU, and so a section of this paper focuses on whorehouses.  History made them do it.  Here is the interactive site.  I am in general a big believer in this kind of micro-history, which remains undervalued in the economics profession.

The pointer is from Kottke.

Kieran Healy has a new paper on that topic (pdf), by the way a paper with a very short title (but this is a family blog).  Here is his opening paragraph:

Nuance is not a virtue of good sociological theory. Sociologists typically use it as a term of praise, and almost without exception when nuance is mentioned is is because someone is asking for more of it.  I shall argue that, for the problems facing Sociology at present, demanding more nuance typically obstructs the development of theory that is intellectually interesting, empirically generative, or practically successful.
And yet I find this paper has a lot of…nuance.  But of course Healy is consistent, it is “Actually Existing Nuance” he is railing against…

Friday assorted links

by on August 28, 2015 at 11:25 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. More on China and the silver standard.

2. Is there too much cream cheese on your bagel for the same reason the air conditioning is too cold?

3. The gravity model (trade) in ancient times.  A remarkable piece.

4. Switzerland launches special trains for Asians, Rigi-Kulm edition.  But back home in China: “The service sectors we do have data for have flat or falling output similar to other industries.”  Lots of signs of pending negative growth in there.  And the NYT covers the rise of China’s zombie factories.

5. Critique of Daniel Bell on Chinese meritocracy.

6. The theological poverty economist.  And she is moving to GW.

7. The cash or the tuna?  The law firm is taking the cash.

8. One of Facebook’s founders is taking on the Fed.

9. New AEA video on how good and interesting the life of an economist is.  I don’t find it so informative, and it is odd how little economic reasoning it uses.

10. Can a novelist be too productive?

Thursday assorted links

by on August 27, 2015 at 11:42 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Why do so many new restaurant names sound the same?

2. Why do papers with shorter titles get more citations?  The paper on that is here, six words in the title (“The advantage of short paper titles.”)

3. Worries about Greece, still nascent but worth noting.

4. Good review of volume IV of Elena Ferrante.  And German literary critic reviews IKEA catalog.  Is it perhaps the world’s most widely distributed new edition?

5. Uber with goats — “goats out of context…”(link is safe but it is to Playboy, fyi)

6. Who supports the public administration major at Auburn?

7. Is value-added trade growing nonetheless?

This book already has done a good deal to raise the status of autistic people and also studies of autism.  Silberman is to be commended for extensive research into the lives of Hans Asperger and Leo Kanner and into the modern “neurodiversity” movement more broadly.  He has taken on a very difficult topic and turned it into what is likely to prove a commercially successful book.

That said, most reviews of this work, while positive, are not very assured.  It’s as if the reviewers know they are not well-informed about the topic and thus they stick to general praise, without delving into the details.  Or maybe they like the book’s conclusion and are reluctant to criticize the work as a whole.  I, in contrast, have a few more pointed remarks:

1. Leo Kanner, a co-discoverer of autism, is made out to be the bad guy, yet his writings are more subtle than Silberman indicates, even though one can pull some bad phrases and quotations.  Kanner in particular had a much stronger grasp of the diversity within autism (pdf) than Silberman grants.  It is hard, after reading that piece, to see how his conception of autism could be described as monolithic.

The contrast between Kanner and Asperger is much overdrawn.  The truth is closer to “they both had profound early insights and were unjustly neglected” rather than Silberman’s “sadly the Kanner approach to autism at first beat out the Asperger approach.”  The latter narrative is an over-dramatized storytelling convention of a popular book.  The real problem back then was how various minorities and “deviants” were treated, from gay individuals to lobotomized schizophrenics, rather than the dominant influence of Kanner’s ideas.

2. Silberman promotes an “along a spectrum (spectra?) model” rather than an “autistic yes or no” model.  Maybe so, but it is far from obvious that the “yes or no” model is false and in fact it explains some of the data better (pdf).  Silberman offers no scientific reason for his choice, and he doesn’t define the underlying concepts clearly enough to outline exactly what is at stake.  Silberman argues that the spectrum models are ethically superior and more humane, but that is an unjustified presumption and it also does not settle the substantive dispute.  In any case both models are capable of accommodating either respectful or disrespectful attitudes toward autistic people.

3. For a 534-pp.book on autism, there is oddly little discussion of what autism is or might be.  That is author’s prerogative of course, but it means the book doesn’t offer much of a framework for judging the research history of autism, as it attempts to do.

4. Silberman devotes an entire chapter to the movie “Rain Man,” and in part the movie’s main role model, namely Kim Peek.  Yet the text fails to note it eventually turned out that Peek was not in fact autistic but instead probably had FG syndrome.  This is another instance of the book’s tendency to prefer a good story over the facts.  And that Peek was so ingloriously railroaded into the autism category is part of the actual story there (Dustin Hoffman played a role in doing that), yet that is a mistake which Silberman himself essentially repeats.

I hate to rain on the parade of this book because a) I love the topic, b) the author’s research is impressive, and c) the book is genuinely humane and tolerant and it will have an almost entirely positive impact on popular discourse.  Still, I think that the original organizing themes in the work are mostly wrong.

And oddly, for all its praise of autism and autistic ways of thinking, the style of the book is remarkably non-autistic.  It’s full of long stories and blah blah blah, rather than getting to the point.

Here is a review from Nature.  Carl Zimmer interviews Silberman.  Here is The Economist review.  Here is a related podcast.  Here is the Jennifer Senior NYT review.  Here is Silberman’s LATimes piece.  Here is a Morton Ann Gernsbacher review.  Here is The Guardian.  Here is The Atlantic.  Here is a PLOS interview with Silberman.

It’s an interesting read, but I don’t think you can trust what’s in there.

Wednesday assorted links

by on August 26, 2015 at 1:02 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Are political values of corporations correlated with their kinds of lawbreaking? (speculative)

2. How should Bitcoin be governed?  Here is New Yorker coverage of Bitcoin governance.  And Joshua Gans on Nate Rosenberg.

3. Did silver wreck China?  And more on whether China has enough foreign exchange reserves.

4. Obamacare and accounting.

5. Burger collusion for a day.  You can imagine further variants on this idea…

6. The new infrastructure spending.

7. My Product Hunt live chat will be at 1:30 EST tomorrow.