Friday assorted links

by on January 19, 2018 at 12:01 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. New and interesting Jordan Peterson article: “He speaks in rapid-fire, um-less sentences. He doesn’t smile much.”  In my view Peterson is one of the five most influential public intellectuals today.

2. Paul McCartney talks about the bass.

3. Gender bias in economic texts.  And more from The Economist.

4. The gravity of every state’s most important trading partner.

5. Boston is favored in the betting odds for Amazon HQ2.

A man threw his body onto a self-driving car — a GM Cruise AV — causing a car vs. pedestrian collision at the 16th and Valencia intersection earlier this month, the DMV reported Wednesday.

Operating in “autonomous mode,” the Cruise AV was stopped at a green light, facing northbound on Valencia, waiting to make a right turn onto 16th Street as pedestrians crossed.

Suddenly, a man ran across Valencia Street against the “do not walk” sign, shouting, and struck the left side of the car’s rear bumper and hatch with his entire body. This is all according to a report the self-driving car manufacturer must file with the DMV in the event of a collision.

The man sustained no injuries, but the car did. It suffered “some damage to its right rear light,” according to the report.

Here is the full story.

If you are going to worry about bilateral deficits, here is one to keep you up at night:

According to South Korea’s World Institute of Kimchi, 89.9 percent of the kimchi purchased by South Korean restaurants in 2016 was imported from China.

The kimchi trade first went into deficit in 2006, triggering soul-searching and a headline-grabbing scandal…

South Korea imported more than 275,000 tonnes of kimchi last year, 99 percent of it from China, the Korea Customs Service (KCS) said, and exported just more than 24,000 tonnes.

The deficit stood at US$47.3 million by value, up 11 percent year-on-year and the largest since the KCS began tracking the data in 2000.

Price is a major factor in the trade, with imports costing just US$0.50 per kilogram in 2016, according to Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corp, while exports — primarily destined for Japan — averaged US$3.36 per kilogram…

UNESCO inscribed South Korean kimchi on its intangible cultural heritage list in 2013, saying: “It forms an essential part of Korean meals, transcending class and regional differences.”

Here is the full article, via the excellent Mark Thorson.

Thursday assorted links

by on January 18, 2018 at 12:43 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

Wednesday assorted links

by on January 17, 2018 at 2:40 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

I think Ross, along with Steven Pinker, received the hardest (though never hostile) questions from me, but of course that is a measure of respect.  Plus serious questions about God are difficult by their nature.  Here is how the summarizers described the ground covered:

…Douthat’s views on religion and theology, but then moves on to more earth-bound concerns, such as his stance on cats, The Wire vs The Sopranos, why Watership Down is the best modern novel for understanding politics, eating tofu before it was cool, journalism as a trade, why he’s open to weird ideas, the importance of Sam’s Club Republicans, the specter of a Buterlian Jihad, and more.

Not to mention Reformicons, CRISPR, Thiel/Girard, Godwin’s Law, euthanasia, what Ross learned his mother, and the dangers of too much smart phone use.  Ross responded in fine form, here is the audio and transcript.  Here is one excerpt:

DOUTHAT: I suppose that I’m drawn to the idea that the truth about human existence lies in what can seem like paradoxical formulations, and this is of course very Catholic in certain ways. Certainly a G. K. Chestertonian idea, so I’m just stealing it from other people. But the idea that various heresies of Christianity, Calvinism included — with apologies to my Calvinist friends — tend to take one particular element of you that’s supposed to be in synthesis and possibly in tension, and run with it. And therefore the truth about things lies in a place that may seem slightly contradictory.

And I think this is borne out in many ways in everyday experience. This both-and experience of human existence. The idea that you can’t split up grace and works in any kind of meaningful way. It’s connected to larger facts about the nature of human existence. The tension between determinism and free will that persists in any philosophical system. You can get rid of God and stop having these Jansenist Jesuit arguments about predestination and so on, but you’re still stuck with the free will–determinism debate. That debate doesn’t go away.

So, yeah, there’s a point at the intersection of different ideas that is as close to the truth as our limited minds can get and in Christian thought, we call that point orthodoxy. Now, how that is connected to my political views is a really good question.


COWEN: We all know the Marcionite heresy: the view, from early Christianity, that the Old Testament should be abandoned. At times, even Paul seems to subscribe to what later was called the Marcionite heresy. Why is it a heresy? Why is it wrong?

DOUTHAT: It’s wrong because it takes the form . . . It’s wrong for any number of reasons, but in the context of the conversation we’re having, it’s wrong because it tries to basically take one of the things that Christianity is trying to hold in synthesis and run with it to the exclusion of everything else, and essentially to solve problems by cutting things away.

The Marcionite thesis is, basically, if you read the New Testament, Jesus offers you a portrait of God that seems different from the portrait of God offered in Deuteronomy; therefore, these things are in contradiction. Therefore, if you believe that Jesus’s portrait of God is correct, then the Deuteronomic portrait of God must be false; therefore, the God of the Old Testament must be a wicked demiurge, etc., etc. And the next thing you know, you’re ascribing to, again, a kind of . . . What is the Aryan Christianity of the Nazis, if not the Marcionite heresy given form in the 1930s and 1940s?

And so the orthodox Christian says, “No, any seeming tension between the Old Testament and the New, any seeming contradiction, is actually suggesting that we need to look for a kind of synthesis between them, and for a sense in which there is not contradiction, but fulfillment in some way, which —

COWEN: Bringing us back to Hegelian Douthat.

DOUTHAT: Yes, yes.


I think it’s probably fair to say that Chesterton’s Father Brown stories had as much influence on my worldview as his more sort of polemical and argumentative writings. And, again, I think therein lies some important insight that I haven’t thought through, but I think you’re correctly gesturing at, about a particular way of thinking about God and theology that isn’t unique to Christianity, but that is strongly suggested by just the structure of the revelation that we have. Marilynne Robinson has a line, I think in Gilead, about — one of the characters is imagining that this life is like the epic of heaven. That we’re living in the Iliad or the Odyssey of heaven. This is the story that will be told in the streets.


COWEN: When you see how much behavior Islam or some forms of Islam motivate, do you envy it? Do you think, “Well, gee, what is it that they have that we don’t? What do we need to learn from them?” What’s your gut emotional reaction?

On another topic:

I’ve been always disappointed that there hasn’t been a kind of sustained Watership Down revival because it’s such a great book and it’s a book about — essentially, it’s about a founding.

It’s connected, in a sense, to the kind of things that the Straussians are always arguing about and so on. What does the founding mean, and so on? But you have a group of rabbits who go forth and encounter different models of political order, different ways of relating to humankind, that shadow over rabbit-kind at any point.

You have a warren that has essentially surrendered itself to humanity and exists as a kind of breeding farm, and you have a warren that’s run as a fascist dictatorship essentially. And then you have this attempt to form a political community that is somewhere in between the two, getting back to the Hegelian synthesis and so on. And you have sort of this primal narrative where the problem is of course that they don’t have any females, and so there’s this competition, this competition for reproductive power that’s carried out between these different warrens where the rabbits from the good warren have to literally — not kidnap, because the does come willingly — but steal women from the fascist dictatorship, which maintains a ruthless control over reproduction.

So there’s just a lot of fascinating stuff there, and then it’s all interspersed with storytelling. There’s the sort of rabbit folktales that Richard —

COWEN: So, narrative again.

DOUTHAT: Narrative again.

Strongly recommended, and I do thank Ross for putting up with me.  Do read or listen to the whole thing.

And I very much enjoyed reading Ross’s forthcoming book To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism, which I found totally engrossing.

Perhaps you know that both mainstream bananas and chocolate are threatened by blights.  There is even talk of “bananas as we know them” going under, although I believe the hardier (and tastier) Brazilian bananas are in much less danger.  They are also harder to grow, stack, and transport to the United States.

More generally, to the extent societies opt for monocultures, disease can threaten an entire crop.  So when breeding and choosing genetic strains, do markets get this problem right?  Or can we identify a systematic market failure?  Will farmers produce too many kinds of corn of the same kind, or too few?  For background, you might wish to read this Charles C. Mann article.  Here are a few points:

1. In old line Chamberlain-style monopolistic competition theory, producers selected too many product varieties because product differentiation boosted their market power and thus their profits.  Appropriately, people accused him of excessively differentiating his theory from that of Joan Robinson.

2. In the A. Michael Spence product quality papers from 1976-1980, producers with market power choose too little product variety, because they don’t sufficiently count the inframarginal gains from bringing new products to market.

3. There is now a risk/insurance argument.  If you breed and grow a different strain or corn, or simply invest in keeping an old strain around, no single blight can wipe out all the corn.  This is a kind of substitute for corn insurance markets.  I have seen Taleb make a version of these arguments on Twitter, in an anti-GMO context.

4. Is crop insurance that imperfect?  A corn blight won’t succeed right away, and in the meantime the price of corn is going up.  If I am worried about this, I can go long corn.  Admittedly, this is not a hedge for society as a whole against the loss of corn, though it is a hedge for individual investors or farmers.  The biggest losers can purchase some protection.

5. Maybe you just love corn diversity, as I do.  But sticking within an economics context, corn is a pretty small part of most people’s budgets in the United States, but not in rural Mexico.  It is therefore a major potential problem in Mexico but not for most consumers in the United States.  In the U.S., I suspect many corn producers are non-diversified and reap producer surplus, but I don’t have hard data behind those judgments.  Rural Mexicans also find it harder to diversify through asset markets, though they diversify by painting amates and taking up other alternative occupations.

6. You will note that diversity of corn strains persist in rural Mexico, and to a great degree.  It is the United States that has moved much more toward the monoculture.  Of course there may be transitional problems, as part of Mexican agriculture modernizes, but some farmers are left behind with older strains and methods.

7. We can admit that not all gdp is created equally, but then which are the foodstuffs we really could not afford to lose?

7b. Chocolate.

7c. Rice.

7d. Water, a drink.

Yikes!  But mainstream corn and bananas I can do without.

8. Does the Chamberlain mechanism in #1 outweigh the Spence argument in #2?  In today’s food markets, I certainly think so.  So given the risk of extinction, a market structure of monopolistic competition may in fact be better than perfect competition.

How do these arguments apply to the breeding of other living beings?

Tuesday assorted links

by on January 16, 2018 at 1:38 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

Monday assorted links

by on January 15, 2018 at 11:58 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

Yes, it would seem.  The subtitle is “The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on US Crime,” the authors are Evelina Gavrilova, Takuma Kamada, and Floris Zoutman, and the outlet is The Economic Journal.  Here is the abstract:

We show that the introduction of medical marijuana laws (MMLs) leads to a decrease in violent crime in states that border Mexico. The reduction in crime is strongest for counties close to the border (less than 350 kilometres) and for crimes that relate to drug trafficking. In addition, we find that MMLs in inland states lead to a reduction in crime in the nearest border state. Our results are consistent with the theory that decriminalisation of the production and distribution of marijuana leads to a reduction in violent crime in markets that are traditionally controlled by Mexican drug trafficking organisations.

Here is the link to the paper, here are earlier versions.  For the pointer I thank Peter Metrinko.  That said, I learn from Kevin Lewis that the high school graduate rate goes down.

Sunday assorted links

by on January 14, 2018 at 12:00 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Interview with Pandit Nayan Ghosh.  Could it be that Indian classical music, along with Bach-Brahms Germanic classical music, are mankind’s two greatest aesthetic achievements?  Shakespeare too?  And an interview with John Adams.

2. Is the Indian judiciary losing its independence?

3. Ralph Ellison reviews Gunnar Myrdal.

4. Niall Ferguson By the Book (NYT).

5. Parfitian worms.

6. Julian Assange, chess Straussian.

7. “Sticks are probably where the story of craft begins…

Norwegian psychiatrist Ørnulf Ødegaard has studied personality types.  He has shown that relatively more Norwegian-born persons in Minnesota suffered from mental illness, especially schizophrenia,in the 1920s than did members of Norway’s population.  He maintained that the greater frequency of illness might be due in some degree to the greater strains the emigrants were exposed to in a foreign society, but he also held that people who were disposed to this illness were more restless and found it easier than other personality types to break out of their environment.

That is from Ingrid Semmingsen, Norway to America: A History of the Migration, and I believe the original reference is to ” Immigration and Insanity: A Study of Mental Disease Among the Norwegian-born Population of Minnesota,” Ø Ødegaard – Acta psychiatrica Scandinavica, Suppl, 1932.”  Here is a related post on gene-culture interaction.

A few points:

1. Facebook can now claim it is truly addressing the problems (way exaggerated in my opinion) associated with the 2016 election.  This looks decisive, and the company can present it as a turning point.

2. In essence, they are blaming the media, without having to throw the stones themselves.  Americans respond positively to attacks on the media, so this is a strong public relations move.  Facebook retains the option of blaming the media more explicitly for its previous troubles, if need be.

3. The news feed can always be reintroduced under another name or guise.  Two years from now, the entire dialogue about the major web companies is likely to be different, one way or another.

4. I do understand this may devastate some marginal media outlets, and in fact many media outlets are marginal these days in economic terms.  Still, in the longer run I prefer a scenario where other web sites try to compete with Facebook rather than being co-opted by it and dependent on it.

5. Does this mean more ads will turn up on Instagram, chat apps, Facebook Messenger, and other Facebook services?

There is also this angle (NYT, speculative):

Facebook’s pulling back from the news — which necessarily depends on conflict — and elevation of homier material may bolster the company’s attempt to enter China, where it has been met with stiff resistance.

“Facebook is just desperate to get into China, and it will never do that unless it censors news — and this is actually a neat solution to that,” Mr. Weisberg, the Slate chairman, said. “If you only have news on the platform shared by users, users who live under repressive regimes don’t have access to real news and can’t share it, because it’s legally prohibited.”

I’m not entirely happy about this last factor, but I also don’t see how it is better for China for Facebook to remain permanently outside the country.  And if the desire to enter China makes Facebook in some way worse for Americans, that is a potential problem, but I don’t see how this move makes the overall media environment worse for Americans.

Saturday assorted links

by on January 13, 2018 at 2:48 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

Friday assorted links

by on January 12, 2018 at 10:47 am in Uncategorized | Permalink