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Assorted links

by on November 15, 2014 at 12:12 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Five year old passes Microsoft exam.

2. Mind-controlled device switches on gene expression.

3. Last year, was Tyrone right about the Republicans?

4. Do the Chinese need insulation?

5. Why are there so few new blockbuster drugs?

6. Michael Mandel on Title II.

7. Sylvia Nasar lawsuit ruled to have no standing.

Assorted links

by on November 14, 2014 at 12:14 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Daniel Davies on the foreign exchange scandals.

2. Should having a toilet be a prerequisite for running for public office?

3. Hermit crabs solve a matching problem and swap shells.

4. The wrong way to steal a chainsaw.

5. Tax incidence theory: “…up to 74 percent of the variation in adoption costs is explained by child characteristics.”

6. How do Harvard faculty complain about their health care benefits?: “What I don’t have time to do is find $1,500 in my back pocket.”

Over the more than four centuries from the time of Ivan the Terrible, Russia expanded an average of fifty square miles per day.

That is from the extraordinary new Stephen Kotkin biography of Stalin, titled Stalin.  The first volume of 949 pp. brings the reader up only until 1928.  A lot still happened after that.

Assorted links

by on November 13, 2014 at 11:46 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Criticisms of Piketty on Sweden.

2. Against Title II.  And here is Larry Downes.

3. Dutchman has bitcoin wallet inserted in hands to ease transactions.

4. Data on how female CEOs actually get to the top.

5. Bryan Caplan on Gruber.  And Bryan on me and GruberArnold Kling on Gruber.

6. The productivity of economics PhDs.

Both sides put out their joint statement, the U.S. issuing it via the White House and China releasing it through the official Xinhua News Agency. But whereas one side gave it a high gloss, the other seemed to be trying to bury it under the rug. The top story on the website affiliated with the Communist Party flagship paper The People’s Daily was about Xi and Obama meeting the press  – but the article made no reference to the climate agreement. Other stories on the homepage touched on the climate statement but tended to relegate it to the latter half of the article, and omitted the American-style superlatives. The popular Beijing News, a state-run paper known for gently testing the editorial boundaries, also didn’t mention the climate deal in its Nov. 12 cover story on the APEC meeting that brought Obama to China. It focused instead on the meeting’s anti-corruption accord and progress on plans for a pan-Asian free trade zone spearheaded by China.

Here is one reason why:

Beijing is under fire domestically for its unsuccessful efforts to curb local air pollution, noting that people were furious that authorities managed to clear the air for the visiting APEC dignitaries but can’t do it on a daily basis for their own citizens. ” There may be worries that focusing on climate change rather than air pollution doesn’t meet the public’s main concerns,” Seligsohn said via email.

That is all from a good piece by Alexa Olesen at Foreign Policy.

No one knows for sure, you will find a brief survey of some estimates here.  Let’s start with a few simpler points, however.

First, China is notorious for making announcements about air pollution and then not implementing them.  This is only partially a matter of lying, in part the government literally does not have the ability to keep its word.  They have a great deal of coal capacity coming on-line and they can’t just turn that switch off.  They’re also driving more cars, too.

Second, China falsifies estimates of the current level of air pollution, so as to make it look like the problem is improving when it is not.  Worse yet, during the APEC summit the Chinese government blocked the more or less correct estimates coming from U.S. Embassy data, which are usually transmitted through an app.  A nice first step to the “deal” with the United States would have been to allow publication (through the app) of the correct numbers.  But they didn’t.  What does that say about what one might call…”the monitoring end”…of this new deal?

Third, a lot of the relevant Chinese regulatory apparatus is at the local not federal level (in fact it should be more centrally done, even if not fully federalized in every case).  There are plenty of current local laws against air pollution which are simply not enforced, often because of corruption, and often that pollution is emanating from locally well-connected, job-creating state-owned enterprises.  Often the pollution comes from one locality and victimizes another, especially in the north of the country.   Those are not good local regulatory incentives and it will take a long time to correct them.  Right now for instance Beijing imports a lot of its pollution from nearby, poorer regions which simply wish to keep churning the stuff out.  The Chinese also do not have anything close to a consistently well-staffed environmental bureaucracy.

Fourth, if you look at the history of air pollution, countries clean up the most visible and also the most domestically dangerous problems first, and often decades before solving the tougher issues.  For China that highly visible, deadly pollutant would be Total Particulate Matter, which kills people in a rather direct way, and in large numbers, and is also relatively easy to take care of.  (Mexico for instance has been getting that one under control for some time now.)  The Chinese people (and government) are much more worried about TPM than about carbon emissions, which is seen as something foreigners complain about.  Yet TPM is still getting worse in China, and if it is (possibly) flat-lining this year that is only because of the economic slowdown, not because of better policy.

When will China cap carbon emissions?  “Fix TPM and get back to me in twenty years” is still probably an underestimate.  Don’t forget that by best estimates CO2 emissions were up last year in China by more than four percent.  How many wealthier countries have made real progress on carbon emissions?  Even Denmark has simply flattened them out, not pulled them back.

The Chinese really are making a big and genuine effort when it comes to renewables, it is just that such an effort is dwarfed by the problems mentioned above.

The media coverage I have seen of the U.S.-China emissions “deal” has not been exactly forthcoming in presenting these rather basic points.  It’s almost as if no one studies the history of air pollution anymore.

I understand why a lot of reporters want to “clutch at straws” — it’s good for both clicks and the conscience — but a dose of realism is required as well.  The announced deal is little more than a well-timed, well-orchestrated press release.

Is it up to three cynical tapes about Obamacare now?   I’ve lost track.

I’m not so interested in pushing through the mud on this one.  It’s a healthy world where academics can speak their minds at conferences and the like without their words becoming political weapons in a bigger fight.  Or how about blogs?: do we want a world where no former advisor can write honestly about the policies of an administration?  I’ve disagreed with Gruber from the beginning on health care policy and I thought his ObamaCare comic book did the economics profession — and himself — a disservice.  But I’m simply not very interested in his proclamations on tape, which as far as I can tell are mostly correct albeit overly cynical.  (If anything he is overrating the American voter — most people weren’t even paying close enough attention to be tricked.)  Criticisms of Gruber are not criticisms of a policy, and it is policy we should focus upon and indeed there is still a great deal of health care policy we need to figure out.  It’s hardly news that intellectuals who hold political power, even as advisors, very often do not speak the truth.  If anything, I feel sorry for Gruber that he has subsequently felt the need to so overcompensate by actively voicing such ex post cynicism, it is perhaps the sign of a soul not at rest.

In the meantime, I’d like to see more open discourse, not less.  Perhaps we should subsidize people who end up looking foolish, rather than taxing them.

Assorted links

by on November 12, 2014 at 1:52 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Is badminton the most corrupt sport? (link now fixed)

2. Why do so many hipsters look alike?

3. How to disrupt bribes.

4. Habal-Habal in the Philippines (photo).

5. The secret (internet) life of plants?

6. Can computers write fiction?  (No, not yet)  Kill people?  (Yes)

7. 28 claims about Latin America.

8. Should German traffic lights show men or women figurines?

Assorted links

by on November 11, 2014 at 12:41 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Public transit use in the United States.

2. Women and pot legalization, redux.

3. What is new with ECB monetary policy?

4. When fish shout.

5. 9 Chinese marriage proposals.

6. Tim Geithner on Europe (caution: contains profanity).

Assorted links

by on November 10, 2014 at 12:09 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. The economic consequences of sexual violence.

2. What to expect when you give your first job talk (I’d like to see John Cleese make the same video).

3. Richard Posner on rabbis and hard liquor.

4. 25 years after the fall of the Wall, unemployment in East vs. West Germany.

5. Larry Summers in the FT on how to deal with Ebola and other public health emergencies looking forward.

6. How much does a Michelin star still affect restaurant profits?

Catherine Weinberger of UCSB has a new paper out with that title in the Review of Economics and Statistics, and it echoes some of the themes I discussed in Average is Over.  Here is the abstract:

Data linking 1972 and 1992 adolescent skill endowments to adult outcomes reveal increasing complementarity between cognitive and social skills. In fact, previously noted growth in demand for cognitive skills affected only individuals with strong endowments of both social and cognitive skills. These findings are corroborated using Census and CPS data matched with Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) job task measures; employment in and earnings premiums to occupations requiring high levels of both cognitive and social skill grew substantially compared with occupations that require only one or neither type of skill, and this emerging feature of the labor market has persisted into the new millennium.

You will find ungated copies here, and for the pointer I thank Ben Southwood.

Assorted links

by on November 9, 2014 at 2:39 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Claims about density, diversity, and voting behavior (do not reason from a static coalition!).

2. Bruno Latour has his own circus.

3. “Doing Business in Japan.”

4. Are the Republicans any better on state and local business regulation?

5. Will the LeBron James stimulus be good for the Cleveland economy?

6. Secession fever grows in Catalonia.

That is the topic of my latest column for The Upshot at The New York Times, here is an excerpt:

Unfortunately, regions with rapidly growing populations, like Africa and South Asia, often have lower living standards. In our likely global future, these regions will have more people than they can comfortably support, while many countries in the West and in East Asia will have too few young people for prosperous economies.

As an economist, I see an obvious solution: Relatively underpopulated and highly developed countries could profitably take in young Africans and South Asians — and both sides would gain. Yet it’s far from clear that all nations that could benefit from this policy would entertain it, partly because of persistent racial and cultural bias. There is also the legitimate question of how quickly immigrants can adjust to new environments, especially if they are arriving with weak educational backgrounds as the job market demands ever-stronger skills.

…If you’re not convinced that a declining population is a problem, consider Japan. In terms of real gross domestic product per hour worked, Japan has continued to have good performance, but it has a fundamental problem: The working-age population has been declining since about 1997. And Japan’s overall population has been growing older, so with fewer workers supporting so many retirees, national savings will dwindle and resources will be diverted from urgent tasks like revitalizing companies and otherwise invigorating the economy. Japan has already gone from being a miracle exporter to a country that runs steady trade deficits. Perhaps there is simply no narrowly economic recipe to keep its economy growing; Edward Hugh made this argument in his recent ebook, “The A B E of Economics.”

I am extremely pessimistic that we will manage to achieve any more than a small amount of workable population transfers.  Furthermore potential underpopulation is one of the most serious and underrated problems today, as Robin Hanson argued a few years ago.

There is also this bit, the first sentence of which may remind you of Steve Sailer:

France, Israel and Singapore are three countries where population issues are being discussed quite frankly; all have explicit public policies to encourage more births. And more countries will probably go down this route. Encouraging people to have more children, and generally bidding for human talent, may characterize the economic policies of the future, just as cities and states today bid for football stadiums and factories.

By the way, recent reports indicate that the relaxation of China’s one-child policy have led to many fewer births than were expected.  And this new paper (pdf) indicate that immigrant inflows raise the birth rates of native women by making child care more affordable.

Assorted links

by on November 8, 2014 at 12:26 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Against coal-based explanations of the Industrial Revolution.

2. Should a leader look intelligent or healthy?

3. Weyl and Posner on combining freer immigration with a tighter caste system.

4. The lower bound didn’t really matter until mid-2011 (an impressive and I would say definitive study).

5. The archaeology of late capitalism (Atari games on eBay).

6. Can deceptive behavior promote cooperation?

The excellent Akos Lada, a graduate student at Harvard, has a new paper on why countries sometimes invade their neighbors, it is called “The Dark Side of Attraction,” the abstract is here:

I argue that the diffusion of domestic political institutions is a source of wars. In the presence of an inspiring foreign regime, repressive elites fear that their citizens emulate the foreign example and revolt. As a result, a dictator starts a war against an attractive foreign regime, seeking to destroy this alternative model. Such wars are particularly likely when there are strong religious, ethnic or cultural ties between the dictator’s opposition and the inspiring country – connections that allow citizens to draw easy comparisons. My posited mechanism explains three case studies. The first describes the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1849. The second case study analyzes the origins of the First World War (1914-8), where Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia. The final case study discusses the Iran-Iraq War (1980-8). In all three cases, a dictator started a war in order to extinguish the foreign flame that fueled his domestic opposition.

Akos occasionally writes blog posts here.  Here is our previous coverage of Akos Lada — he stands a good chance of being one of the significant new “big picture” thinkers in economics.