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They have licensed another Led Zeppelin song, there is a new Morgan Freeman figure, and befitting the director the film is drenched in Maori design and themes and to some extent Maori humor.

“Being Maori,” Waititi [the director] said, “it’s extremely important to me to have native presence on any film. (link here)

Korg had a Maori accent, not surprisingly because the director himself played Korg; he is also Jewish from the maternal side.  You can spot indigenous Australian and Maori actors throughout the movie.  The spaceships are named after classic Australian Holden car brands.  Democracy is not on the agenda, however, and the warrior ethic is more South Pacific than Nordic.  Don’t get me started on the Ponaturi, Maori goblins of a sort.  I’d love to hear an expert on East Bay legends analyze this story.

One of the most fun and interesting movies of the year, although the mainstream American reviews seem oblivious to these broader connections.  Sadly, I didn’t have the knowledge to pick up on all the Marvel Easter Eggs.

Saturday assorted links

by on November 4, 2017 at 1:25 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

There is a new NBER working paper on these topics, by Anna Chorniy, Janet Currie, and Lyudmyla Sonchak, here is the abstract:

In the U.S., nearly 11% of school-age children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and approximately 10% of children suffer from asthma. In the last decade, the number of children diagnosed with these conditions has inexplicably been on the rise. This paper proposes a novel explanation of this trend. First, the increase is concentrated in the Medicaid caseload nationwide. Second, nearly 80% of states transitioned their Medicaid programs from fee-for-service (FFS) reimbursement to managed care (MMC) by 2016. Using Medicaid claims from South Carolina, we show that this change contributed to the increase in asthma and ADHD caseloads. Empirically, we rely on exogenous variation in MMC enrollment due a change in the “default” Medicaid plan from FFS or MMC, and an increase in the availability of MMC. We find that the transition from FFS to MMC explains most of the rise in the number of Medicaid children being treated for ADHD and asthma. These results can be explained by the incentives created by the risk adjustment and quality control systems in MMC.

The economics of medical diagnoses remain a drastically understudied area.

Friday assorted links

by on November 3, 2017 at 12:07 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

Due to popular demand, we are releasing a transcript of the Conversation with Lindsey and Teles.

We talk about liberaltarianism, how bad is crony capitalism really, whether government affects the distribution of wealth much, universities as part of the problem, whether IP law is too lax or too tough, why Steve didn’t do better in high school, the British system of government, Charles Murray, the Federalist Society, Karl Marx, Thailand, the Coase Theorem, and Star Trek, among other topics.  Here is one bit:

COWEN: What’s the most important idea in the book that you understand better than he [Brink Lindsey] does?

TELES: Well, so there is a division of labor here. Brink did a lot more work on the cases than I did, although we talked about them all and I did a lot more work on the political analysis. We draw a lot on great, really seminal article by Rick Hall at University of Michigan called “Lobbying as Legislative Subsidy.” And I think that idea is dramatically under appreciated. The idea that what lobbyists are essentially doing is providing information, that information is scarce, it is a source of power. And one thing that we add is, if the state isn’t providing information itself, it essentially has to get it from outside. And when they get it from outside, it imports the overall inequality and information gathering and processing that’s in civil society. And that can be a very strong source of inequality in policy outcomes. I think Brink understands that, but this is my wheelhouse so I think probably if you were gonna push me, I’d say I understood it better that he did.

And this:

LINDSEY: One can see the whole sort of second wave feminist movement since the 60s as an anti rent-seeking movement, that white men were accumulating a lot of rents because of the way society was structured, that they were the breadwinner and there was a sexual division of labor, and they received higher pay than they would have otherwise because they were assumed to be the breadwinner, and women were just sort of kept out of the workforce in direct competition with men in many roles. The last half century has been an ongoing anti rent-seeking campaign and the dissipation of those rents especially by less skilled white men has been a cause of a great deal of angst and frustration and political acting out in recent years.

Here is a link to the podcast version of the chat, plus further explanation of my interview method for the two.  Better yet, you can order their new book The Captured Economy: How the Powerful Enrich Themselves, Slow Down Growth, and Increase Inequality.

As I’m on the road, I’ve only read summaries.  Kevin Drum has an excellent post on how the distributional implications harm the blue states, follow-up here.  Scott Sumner says better than expected.  Kevin writes:

The Republican tax bill eliminates deductions for a bunch of odd things: tuition debt, mortgage interest, alimony, medical expenses, state and local taxes, gambling losses, tax prep expenses, moving expenses, and a few others.

Bravo!  I’m actually impressed, noting that many of these deductions are limited rather than eliminated as I understand matters.  Furthermore, in various embedded ways the plan discourages the itemizing of deductions, which in turn limits the value of remaining deductions for many taxpayers, but in a politically subtle way.  The bill even nips at the endowment income for well-off universities, though I don’t favor that change, as it may harm innovation.

The plan as a whole is a reckless expansion of the deficit, but if that is going to happen anyway this is one of the better ways to do it.  In fact, we should tax companies less and homes/land more.  Why?  First, for behavioral reasons homeowners are insufficiently diversified; the tax code should not encourage that.  Second, this bill will (modestly) lower land, home, and rental values in the fancy cities on the coasts, a net gain at least for non-itemizers perhaps (caveat: I don’t know everything that is in the bill).  Third, big, fancy homes on big plots of land are not that “green,” and furthermore residence size seems to bring a lot of hedonic adaptation.  Fourth, there are more likely increasing returns across companies than across expensive homes.  Fifth, American equities seem to bring a long-run return of 5-7% and real estate zero percent.  More of the former please!  Companies > homes.

I believe that with further examination I could find many ugly and stupid aspects of this bill, and many politically craven decisions.  And again, I don’t favor increasing the debt.  But holding the size of the debt constant, let’s face it — this is a step in the right direction.

Thursday assorted links

by on November 2, 2017 at 12:07 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. “Audible’s new feature lets you skip right to the most erotic part of romance novels…“Take me to the good part” lets listeners jump to the juicy sections of 110 romance titles in the company’s collection. These include beloved tropes like a couple’s first meeting, their innuendo-heavy banter, a marriage proposal, and, of course, sex scenes.” Link here.

2. What Southeast Asia would look like if every proposed railway were built.  And more information here.

3. Profile of Jay Powell: “He doesn’t drink much, plays golf and the guitar, and has an odd ability to repeat people’s sentences backward to them, a quirk former colleagues say is a reminder of his smarts — and how closely he listens.”

4. One of my favorite Ben Thompson pieces, this one on Tech goes to Washington.

5. Eugenics 2.0?  How far are we?

6. The “right to be forgotten” may not help you much.

That is the theme of my latest column for Bloomberg, here is one excerpt:

Critics may argue that Facebook isn’t so much like a phone company because it uses complex algorithms to decide what to place before our eyes. That’s true, but would the critics be much happier if ads and posts on Facebook simply appeared in linear, chronological order? And on the question of algorithms, consider an analogy with a traditional publisher: Plenty of mainstream companies have published and promoted the works of Marx, Stalin, Hitler and Mao. The “algorithm” behind these decisions was whether these works would find an audience and bring in profit. The ideologies behind those works, of course, led to revolutions and the massacres of many millions, plus the infiltration of Western governments by communist sympathizers and delusional beliefs for several generations of Western intellectuals. Few of us are happy about those outcomes, yet for the most part we don’t blame printing presses, publishers’ quest for profit or their “algorithms.” We instead focus on the bad ideas themselves, and how we might persuade individuals otherwise.

You could think of Facebook as akin to a delivery truck, noting that such trucks often carry guns, abused medications, junk food and bad books, among other evils. If Russian conspirators order you flowers for Valentine’s Day, perhaps in appreciation of your pro-Putin tweets, the delivery truck will bring those too.

Here is good analysis by Jacob Sullum.  Here you can view some of the offending ads, weak tea says I. Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov would have been ashamed.

Overall, one reason Facebook is such a scapegoat is because so many individuals don’t want to admit that Trump simply won the election.  To the extent you can pin his victory on some kind of conspiracy or wrongdoing, that gives you something to rail against, something to blame, and also a way to feel better about parts of your country.

Two exhibits in Manhattan, taken collectively, offer what might be this year’s most rewarding aesthetic and learning experience.  I stated a while ago that for the first time in a long time (possibly ever), America has a peer country in China.  The contemporary Chinese art overview in the Guggenheim is the single best demonstration of this point I have seen, and the show is further evidence that China already may have surpassed the United States in the visual arts.  Read this NYT review: “…a powerful, unmissable event, and an invaluable window onto a world of contemporary art, politics and history that we still, decades on, barely know.”  This is not complacent art, and some of it was so disturbing it had to be removed before the show opened (NB: the Chinese were not the ones censoring).

At the still underrated Morgan Library, you will find Master Drawings from the Thaw Collection, in two large rooms.  Are drawings and watercolors better than paintings?  Per dollar spent, for sure.  I cannot think of a better, more easily digestible survey of the brilliant visual intelligences behind the last few centuries of Western art.  This NYT review also has quality visuals.

Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda on Tuesday brushed off the notion that researchers can use artificial intelligence to analyze his facial expressions and predict changes in monetary policy.

Kuroda spoke in response to questions about two artificial intelligence researchers, one from Nomura Securities (8604.T) and the other from Microsoft (MSFT.O), who are using software to analyze split-second changes in Kuroda’s facial expressions at his post-meeting press conferences.

The study claims that at news conferences that preceded two recent major policy changes, Kuroda flashed brief signs of “anger” and “disgust”.

Here is the full story, via David Wessel.

This is an out-of-synch bonus episode, rushed out because I think their new, just-out book — The Captured Economy: How the Powerful Slow Down Growth, Enrich Themselves, and Increase Inequality — is so important.  You will find the podcast here, lots of rapid fire back and forth.

Everyone wanted me to interview them together, but I said no, I would instead interview them separately and ask about 2/3 the same questions to see how their answers might hang together, or not.  That is how co-authors should be treated!  I also asked each what the other has for breakfast, and by the end each had confessed to several crimes, to avoid a longer sentence of course.

Here is the smallest of bits:

COWEN: Are higher levels of executive compensation part of the problem?

TELES: There you probably would get a different answer between me and Lindsey.

COWEN: That’s why I asked

Recommended, again here is the podcast (no transcript, we wanted to get this out right away).

Wednesday assorted links

by on November 1, 2017 at 2:53 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Peter Leeson WTF video for his new book.  And The Economist covers Peter on witch trials.

2. Who will be the next president of Harvard?

3. “Scientists have called for Kyrgyzstan’s only mummy to be immediately dug back up after the 1,500-year-old relic was taken from a museum and hastily reburied on the eve of a presidential election in a decision celebrated by self-professed psychics.”  Link here.  And: “In 2011, lawmakers ritually slaughtered seven sheep in parliament to exorcise “evil spirits”.”  Recommended.

4. The unequal distribution of economic education (pdf).

5. How free tuition can crowd out poorer students.

There is a new edition out, edited and translated by Stuart Warner and Stéphane Douard.  This eighteenth century bestseller could hardly be more relevant today.  Is it possible to lead a philosophic life?  How do political leadership and wisdom intersect?  How do Christianity and Islam differ politically?  How does politics reflect gender relations in a society?  Is there a case for optimism in modernity?  I still am not sure we have improved on Montesquieu’s investigations, although I cannot claim he gives us final answers.  This is a volume of polyphony, with travel as a source of learning and liberation as a major theme throughout.

Harems play a role too, here are the final paragraphs from Roxane to her sultan master Usbek:

You were astonished not to find in me the ecstasies of love.  If you had known me well, you would have found in me all the violence of hatred.

But you have had for a long time the advantage of believing that a heart such as mine was submissive to you.  We were both happy you believed me deceived, and I was deceiving you.

This language, without doubt, appears new to you.  Could it be possible that after having overwhelmed you with grief, I could still force you to admire my courage?  But it is done: poison consumes me; my strength abandons me; the pen falls from my hand; I feel even my hatred weaken; I am dying.

The introduction and notes are outstanding, and also of interest for those of you who are piqued by Straussianism.  You will note that the book was first published anonymously.

“Jokes in a serious work are acceptable on the condition that they hide a profound sense beneath a trivial form. It is in this way that Montesquieu, in his novel, Persian Letters, has written one of the most philosophical books of the eighteenth century.” – Alexis de Tocqueville [link]

I am pleased, by the way, to have once had the chance to spend two days with co-editor Stuart Warner discussing Persian Letters and nothing but (thank you again Liberty Fund!).  I cannot think of any person more qualified to have undertaken this endeavor.

You can order the volume here.

Monday assorted links

by on October 30, 2017 at 2:34 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Virginia gets serious about congestion pricing on Rt.66, some tolls $30 or maybe higher?

2. Union Square chess hustling, circa 2017.  Those old service sector jobs, but updated.

3. China Titanic markets in everything: “For a premium price of 200,000 yuan ($30,000), a guest can play the role of Rose, one of the movie’s star-crossed protagonists.”

4. Profile of Rod Dreher.

5. “…☺ does not necessarily look smiling to everyone.”

6. Claims about Industrial Revolution wages.

7. Some written-out summary points from my podcast with David Perell.

This is the week of hearings on Facebook ads, as well as Twitter and Google promotion of pro-Putin or sometimes pro-Trump or disruptive ideas.  So far we know that Russia-linked ads on Facebook cost about $100,000, a laughably low number.  Maybe there is much more hidden, but so far I don’t see it.

$100,000 is exactly the amount the Comintern gave in the 1920s to organize a campaign against John L. Lewis leading the mine union.  No, I am not adjusting for inflation, so in real terms the sum in the 20s was much higher.  The Comintern also gave at least $35,000 to start the Daily Worker, again that is a nominal figure from the 1920s.  The American Communist Party received subsidies too.  Many other communist subsidies, media and otherwise, remain hidden or at least uncertain.

Furthermore, those earlier expenditures helped convert a large number of Americans and American intellectuals to actual belief in communism, or at least fellow traveler sympathies.  And consider this (NYT):

The C.P.U.S.A.’s vulnerability had a great deal to do with its dependence on Moscow. For much of its existence, the party could not have functioned without Moscow gold. One of its first leaders, the journalist John Reed, was given more than a million rubles’ worth of czarist jewels and diamonds to smuggle into America to support the fledgling American movement. In the 1920s, Armand Hammer, the future head of Occidental Petroleum, used money derived from Soviet concessions to underwrite The Daily Worker and fund communist operations in Europe. Without Soviet money, the C.P.U.S.A. would not have been able to hire the hundreds of full-time organizers and support an array of front groups and publications that enabled it to outspend and out-organize its left-wing rivals.

So I’m just not that “impressed” by the Facebook revelations to date.  If you want to worry about Facebook, the much bigger problems are abroad (NYT).