Monday assorted links

by on March 23, 2015 at 12:20 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Interview with the NYU professor banned from UAE: “But once the decision was made and the university is up and running, the position of myself and others is that NYU has responsibilities there and one of the responsibilities is to try to generate solutions to the terrible situation that migrant workers labor under in that country. Otherwise, what are we doing there?”

2. Against trolleyism in philosophy.

3. The behavioral economics of how restaurants can try to trick you.

4. Pierre Boulez at age 90.  And the musicians on Boulez.

5. Lead prosecutor apologizes for sending man to death row.  And good vs. bad deflation.

6. Chris Rufer on corporate welfare and cronyism.

In just about every field I looked at, having a successful parent makes you way more likely to be a big success, but the advantage is much smaller than it is at the top of politics.

Using the same methodology, I estimate that the son of an N.B.A. player has about a one in 45 chance of becoming an N.B.A. player. Since there are far more N.B.A. slots than Senate slots, this is only about an 800-fold edge.

Think about the N.B.A. further. The skills necessary to be a basketball player, especially height, are highly hereditary. But the N.B.A. is a meritocracy, with your performance easy to evaluate. If you do not play well, you will be cut, even if the team is the New York Knicks and your name is Patrick Ewing Jr. Father-son correlation in the N.B.A. is only one-eleventh as high as it is in the Senate.

Emphasis added by me.  And this:

An American male is 4,582 times more likely to become an Army general if his father was one; 1,895 times more likely to become a famous C.E.O.; 1,639 times more likely to win a Pulitzer Prize; 1,497 times more likely to win a Grammy; and 1,361 times more likely to win an Academy Award. Those are pretty decent odds, but they do not come close to the 8,500 times more likely a senator’s son is to find himself chatting with John McCain or Dianne Feinstein in the Senate cloakroom.

That is all from Seth Stephens-Davidowitz.

Sunday assorted links

by on March 22, 2015 at 12:36 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. New evidence on robots.

2. Too bad it wasn’t holy water.

3. Football player mathematician.  And more here.

4. Why trade unions are so opposed to TPP.

5. Ben Yagoda reviews Culture Crash.

6. The kitchen of the unwanted animal.

Corey Robin has a useful survey of responses from the Left, some of which include repudiations of Zionism, in addition to claims that the current Israeli policies simply have to unravel, to the detriment of virtually everybody.  Think of the latter as a prediction of comeuppance, much like how inequality critics sometimes predict eventual doom for the wealthy if they do not redistribute their wealth.

From a separate direction, economist Glen Weyl explains on Facebook why he is now supporting the BDS movement.

I’m not interested in debating the normative side of the election, or various peace plans, right now.  What I find striking is how unready many critics are to confront what has happened, not just in the “Plan B” sense but also rhetorically.  The possibility that civil rights progress, peace progress, and self-governance and democratic progress simply have stopped, and won’t be back any time soon, is before us.  If anything, matters might become worse yet, especially once you contemplate Gaza.  Yet Western commentators don’t know where to turn, because the prevailing progressive narrative is one, not surprisingly, of progress.  The common progressive remedy is one of moral exhortation, but at this point it doesn’t seem like another lecture to Israeli voters is going to do the trick.

Such stagnation and possibly retrogression in outcomes is hardly novel at the global level, and even within Israel/Palestine proper it’s far from clear there has been much actual news from the Israeli election (i.e., the two-state solution has been failing for some while now).  Still, Israel attracts enough attention, and loyalty, that this is producing an intellectual crisis for many.  Some people feel they have been made fools of, and they are no longer happy playing along with the fantasy of an eventual peace deal based on ideals of democracy and rule of law.  They wish to recast their mood affiliations, but where really to turn?

By the way, the world has been getting more violent since 2007.

There are just 6 per cent more people working in greater Los Angeles than there were 25 years ago. By contrast, the Inland Empire has nearly doubled in size. In fact, the absolute number of jobs added in the Inland Empire since 1990 is nearly double the absolute number of jobs added in greater LA. To get a sense of how wild that is, the entire workforce of the Inland Empire was only 13 per cent the size of Los Angeles’s back in 1990. Even now, there are more than three workers in Los Angeles for every one in the Inland Empire.

It’s a little hard to see given the scale of the chart, but it’s also worth noting that LA experienced a Depression-level drop in employment in the early 1990s. Between January, 1990 and November, 1993, employment in the America’s second-biggest metro area fell by nearly 11 per cent. Employment didn’t return to its previous peak until July, 1999. Talk about a lost decade! (It may help explain this.)

That is from Matthew C. Klein, there is more here, about other American cities too, possibly FT-gated but interesting throughout.

Saturday assorted links

by on March 21, 2015 at 12:34 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Vancouver average is over.

2. The bestselling book in each year.

3. Russ Roberts interviews Paul Romer.

4. “Being salamanders, they’re pretty slow.”

5. Yet another reason to eat beans (the Hispanic Paradox).

Maybe this is too strange and squirrelly an example to deserve mention on MR, but I found it fascinating.  It starts with this:

This year’s rebounding leaderboard, at least in terms of rebounds per game, is topped by DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond, who also finished 1-2 last season. In a bygone era, you’d simply say they are the league’s best rebounders at this time. Yet it might not be that way at all.

There seems to be a huge oops:

Both the Clippers and Pistons have better defensive rebound rates with their star rebounders on the bench. How is that possible?

This is a big topic, but one possible reason could be the simple fact that neither Jordan nor Drummond is particularly concerned with boxing out…Drummond blocks out on the defensive glass just 5.97 times per 100 opportunities, lowest in the league among centers with at least 500 chances.

Jordan is a little better at 9.64, but that’s still the 11th-lowest total.

In other words, what really matters is marginal rebounding prowess, adjusting for how many rebounds you take away from the other players on your team.  Maybe an individual can pull in the ball more often by positioning himself to grab the low hanging fruit rebounds — often taking them from other team members — rather than boxing out the other team for the tough, contested rebounds.

Measurement really is changing the world.  The article is here, by Bradford Doolittle, ESPN gated.  Here is more on DeAndre Jordan, also ESPN gated.  That is one media source I pay for gladly.

Friday assorted links

by on March 20, 2015 at 11:53 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. AT&T charging customers not to spy on them.

2. Driverless, flying car, in the works, maybe sort of.  And Jonathan Rauch on disruptive innovation and health care.

3. Possible genetic factors behind economic growth.

4. Peter Thiel’s anti-aging investments.

5. The invention of underwear with pockets, there is no great stagnation.

6. The story of Peter Chang.

There is an interview with me by Emily Hare in the latest issues of Contagious, a glossy British marketing periodical.  Here is one bit:

Q: What should marketing do to ensure it lives up to its potential?

A; This is what I see happening and this may be disquieting for some of your readers.  The people who are really good at marketing in this new environment are typically not formal marketers, they are not called marketing agencies, they have not studied marketing.  They are people who know some areas very well and then they teach themselves a kind of marketing on the fly.  A good examples if Facebook.  Mark Zuckerberg is not in any formal sense a marketer, but he’s actually one of the most brilliant marketers that the world has seen in the past few decades.  General principles are not that useful anymore.  What is paying off is incredibly detailed, context-specific knowledge of particular areas.  that’s what it takes to craft unique messages.

At all levels we’re seeing this takeover by the content people and everything is supposed to look authentic, so in a sense, authenticity is the new inauthenticity.

Marketing has never been more important, but life has never been tougher for at least some of the marketers.

I do not believe there is a version of this on line.

Thursday assorted John Adams links

by on March 19, 2015 at 12:56 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Christian Zeal and Activity (John Adams).

2. On the Transmigration of Souls (John Adams, 2002).

I sometimes think of Adams’s best work as pretending to serve up corny and slightly obvious Americana, but in fact offering a mysterious, Eastern, and even Buddhist alternative history of the United States.  My other favorite pieces by Adams are the Violin Concerto and The Dharma at Big Sur.

The NYTimes has an article on California’s extreme water drought with the usual apocalyptic imagery (see the video especially):

California is facing a punishing fourth year of drought. Temperatures in Southern California soared to record-high levels over the weekend, approaching 100 degrees in some places. Reservoirs are low. Landscapes are parched and blighted with fields of dead or dormant orange trees.

The apocalyptic scenario needs to be leavened with some basic facts.

California has plenty of water…just not enough to satisfy every possible use of water that people can imagine when the price is close to zero. As David Zetland points out in an excellent interview with Russ Roberts, people in San Diego county use around 150 gallons of water a day. Meanwhile in Sydney Australia, with a roughly comparable climate and standard of living, people use about half that amount. Trust me, no one in Sydney is going thirsty.

So how much are people in San Diego paying for their daily use of 150 gallons of water? About 78 cents. As Matt Kahn puts it:

Where in the Constitution does it say that the people of California have the right to pay .5 cents per gallon of water?

Water is such a small share of most people’s budgets that it could double in price and the effect on income would still be low. Moreover, we don’t even have to increase the price of water for residential or industrial uses. As The Economist points out:

Agriculture accounts for 80% of water consumption in California, for example, but only 2% of economic activity.

What that means is that if agriculture used 12.5% less water we could increase the amount available for every residential and industrial use by 50%–grow those lawns, fill those swimming pools, manufacture those chips!–and the cost would be minimal even if we simply shut down 12.5% of all farms.

Moreover, we don’t have to shut down that many farms, we just have to shut down the least valuable farms and use water more efficiently. If you think water is cheap for San Diego residents it’s much cheaper for Almond-Trees-and-Flood-Irrigationfarmers. Again from The Economist:

Farmers flood the land to grow rice, alfalfa and other thirsty crops….If water were priced properly, it is a safe bet that they would waste far less of it, and the effects of California’s drought—its worst in recorded history—would not be so severe.

Even today a lot of CA agriculture uses the least efficient flood irrigation system.

According to data from the state Department of Water Resources, 43 percent of California farmland in 2010 used some form of gravity irrigation, an imprecise method that uses relatively large amounts of fresh water and represents a big opportunity for water conservation.

The NYTimes article is worried about farm loss:

“I’m going to fallow two acres of my land immediately,” said Geoffrey C. Galloway, who has a citrus grove on his ranch near Porterville, in the Central Valley. “Depending on how the season goes, we may let another four go.”

…Last year, at least 400,000 acres went unplanted, and farmers reported losses of $2.2 billion, said Mr. Wenger, the head of the farm bureau, who owns a farm in Modesto. “This year we could see easily 50 percent more,” he said. “We are probably going to be looking at well over a million acres.”

California has approximately 25 million acres of farmland. And while our bodily fluids might be precious not every acre of farmland is. A few less acres of farmland producing low value crops in return for a lot more water is a very acceptable tradeoff.

Addendum: Low prices are not always wasteful. David Zetland’s short primer on water policy is available for free as pdf. Matt Kahn’s Fundamentals of Environmental and Urban Economics is on Amazon for Kindle for just $1. Both are very good.

The highly esteemed and extremely proficient Thomas MaCurdy has a new piece in the JPE (jstor) on exactly that question.  The news does not surprise me:

This study investigated the antipoverty efficacy of minimum wage policies.  Proponents of these policies contend that employment impacts are negligible and suggest that consumers pay for higher labor costs through imperceptible increases in goods prices.  Adopting this empirical scenario, the analysis demonstrates that an increase in the national minimum wage produces a value-added tax effect on consumer prices that is more regressive than a typical state sales tax and allocates benefits as higher earnings nearly evenly across the income distribution.  These income-transfer outcomes sharply contradict portraying an increase in the minimum wage as an antipoverty initiative.

MaCurdy also writes:

About 35 percent of the total increase in after-tax benefits goes to families with income less than two times the poverty threshold, a common definition of the working poor or near-poor; nearly 13 percent goes to families principally supported by low-wage workers defined as earning wages at or below 117 percent…of the new 1996 minimum wage; and only about 14 percent goes to families with children on welfare.

Unlike most public income support programs, increased earnings from the minimum wage are taxable.  Over 25 percent of the increased earnings are collected back as income and payroll taxes…Even after taxes, 27.6 percent of increased earnings go to families in the top 40 percent of the income distribution.

File under “Scream it From the Rooftops!”  I do not see an ungated copy, but here is an earlier 2000 paper (pdf) by MaCurdy, with O’Brien-Strain, with broadly similar conclusions.

From that same JPE issue, cream skimming effects seem to be pretty small when it comes to school choice.

Wednesday assorted links

by on March 18, 2015 at 12:10 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Does thinking of God make people take more risks?

2. Noah Smith in favor of TPP.

3. What does an economist measure as the most hated college football team? (hint: Boise State)

4. The economics of doping in sports.

5. Further very good Ross Douthat points about whether economic factors explain the collapse in marriage.

6. How likely are capital controls in Greece?  And here is “IMF considers Greece Its Most Unhelpful Client Ever.”

Assorted links

by on March 17, 2015 at 11:47 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. South Korea as the world capital of plastic surgery.

2. Haiti doesn’t seem to have a Congress any more, Martelly is governing by executive order, and only eleven elected officials remain in the country.

3. Will price discrimination for software become nearly perfect?

4. NFL star quits after one season, due to concern over prospective head injuries.

5. David Brooks on what are the new skills we need, and also need to describe.

6. Speculations about Raghuram Rajan (speculative, he may just be opining as an economist typically would).

7. Oddly, I am seeing some Twitter boasts that record warm temperatures in the UK are leading to rapid cuts in carbon emissions.

Assorted links

by on March 16, 2015 at 12:05 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Visualizations of Pi and the randomness (or not) of its digits.

2. Tibet from space, and its watersheds: important photos for the next fifty years.  And David Shambaugh defends his view on China collapse.

3. The old Macau is dead.  And the mortality of professional wrestlers.

4. Why not watch robots wrestle instead?: Robin Hanson reviews Martin Ford.

5. Advances in beaming solar power from space.

6. Is economics driving the decline in marriageable men? (no, pdf)  But it seems the Great Depression did matter.  And further new results on how China and automation have affected U.S. labor markets.