Web/Tech

Here is the transcript, the video, and the podcast.  We covered a good deal of ground, here is one bit:

COWEN: You once wrote, I quote, “My substitute for LSD was Indian food,” and by that, you meant lamb vindaloo.

PAGLIA: Yes.

COWEN: You stand by this.

PAGLIA: Yes, I’ve been in a rut on lamb vindaloo.

COWEN: A rut, tell us.

PAGLIA: It’s a horrible rut.

COWEN: It’s not a horrible rut, it may be a rut.

PAGLIA: No, it’s a horrible rut. It’s a 40-year rut. Every time I go to an Indian restaurant, I say “Now, I’m going to try something new.” But, no, I must go back to the lamb vindaloo.

All I know is it’s like an ecstasy for me, the lamb vindaloo.

COWEN: Like De Quincey, tell us, what are the effects of lamb vindaloo?

PAGLIA: What can I say? I attain nirvana.

And this:

COWEN: This is Sexual Personae, your best known book, which I recommend to everyone, if you haven’t already read it.

PAGLIA: It took 20 years.

COWEN: Read all of it. My favorite chapter is the Edmund Spenser chapter, by the way.

PAGLIA: Really? Why? How strange.

COWEN: That brought Spenser to life for me.

PAGLIA: Oh, my goodness.

COWEN: I realized it was a wonderful book.

PAGLIA: Oh, my God.

COWEN: I had no idea. I thought of it as old and fusty and stuffy.

PAGLIA: Oh, yes.

COWEN: And 100 percent because of you.

PAGLIA: We should tell them that The Faerie Queene is quite forgotten now, but it had enormous impact, Spenser’s Faerie Queene, on Shakespeare, and on the Romantic poets, and so on, and so forth. The Faerie Queene had been taught in this very moralistic way. But in my chapter, I showed that it was entirely a work of pornography, equal to the Marquis de Sade.

COWEN: [laughs]

PAGLIA: How interesting that you would be drawn to that.

COWEN: Very interesting.

Camille

You also can read or hear Camille on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Byrds, Foucault, Suzanne Pleshette vs. Tippi Hendren, dating, Brazil, Silicon Valley, Harold Bloom, LSD, her teaching career, and much, much more.

Typically a Conversation with Tyler is about ten thousand words, this one is closer to fifteen thousand.

Apps vs. bots

by on April 25, 2016 at 12:49 am in Web/Tech | Permalink

By Dan Grover, this is a consistently fun and stimulating piece, and it also comes out in favor of China’s WeChat.  Here is one excerpt:

QR Codes — When I left the US, QR codes were a joke. Putting them on things was a way to tell people you’re a douche, like using lots of hashtags or wearing a Bluetooth headset. They were once this way in China, too, until WeChat doubled-down on them. Now, they’re used for people, group chats, brands, payments, login, and more. They’re in plenty of other apps as well. In a place where everyone has adopted them and knows how to scan them, they’ve become a wonderful, fast way to link the offline and online worlds that saves untold amounts of time. But they have a few downsides. One is that they look like robot barf. The other is that, at least here, if you scan a code in the wrong app, you’ll get a webpage telling you to go install the right app, if not something totally inscrutable. Something that was once defined as an open standard is now non-inoperable. I predict great things for Facebook and Snapchat’s de-uglified take on QR codes. Still, I wish my phone’s OS could scan any such code (or detect them in photos) and do the right thing, but it seems the window of opportunity has passed for this.

And this:

I want the first tab of my OS’s home screen to be a central inbox half as good as my chat app’s inbox. It want it to incorporate all my messengers, emails, news subscriptions, and notifications and give me as great a degree of control in managing it. No more red dots spattered everywhere, no swiping up to see missed notifications. Make them a bit richer and better-integrated with their originating apps. Make them expire and sync between my devices as appropriate. Just fan it all out in front of me and give me a few simple ways to tame them. I’ll spend most of my day on that page, and when I need to go launch Calculator or Infinity Blade, I’ll swipe over. Serve me a tasty info burrito as my main course instead of a series of nachos.

Recommended, including for those of you who don’t see the Chinese as innovators.

Balázs Bodó has a 2015 paper, “Libraries in the post-scarcity era,” here is the abstract:

In the digital era where, thanks to the ubiquity of electronic copies, the book is no longer a scarce resource, libraries find themselves in an extremely competitive environment. Several different actors are now in a position to provide low cost access to knowledge. One of these competitors are shadow libraries – piratical text collections which have now amassed electronic copies of millions of copyrighted works and provide access to them usually free of charge to anyone around the globe. While such shadow libraries are far from being universal, they are able to offer certain services better, to more people and under more favorable terms than most public or research libraries. This contribution offers insights into the development and the inner workings of one of the biggest scientific shadow libraries on the internet in order to understand what kind of library people create for themselves if they have the means and if they don’t have to abide by the legal, bureaucratic and economic constraints that libraries usually face. I argue that one of the many possible futures of the library is hidden in the shadows, and those who think of the future of libraries can learn a lot from book pirates of the 21st century about how users and readers expect texts in electronic form to be stored, organized and circulated.

Much of the paper focuses on what we learn from the competitive, digital, “guerrilla” libraries of Russia — most of all Aleph — with respect to what users really want; this is a striking and original piece.

For the pointer I thank Michael Rosenwald.

SolidOpinion leaves the bulk of the comments section to operate as it always has, but it adds three slots at the top for “promoted comments,” which can be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Publishers have the option of using SolidOpinion’s software to moderate all their comments. The startup’s service is free to use, but it takes a cut of all cash transactions.

…Last year, Tablet magazine, a New York-based Jewish publication, started charging people to post any comment on its website. Readers can pay $2 a day, $18 a month, or $180 a year. Alana Newhouse, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, said she was sick of anonymous commenters haranguing her writers but wanted to leave an option for people willing to prove their good intentions by making what amounts to a donation.

The result has been far fewer comments, but Newhouse doesn’t mind.

Here is the Joshua Brustein Bloomberg story, no comments allowed.

The pointer is through Ted Gioia, don’t forget his new and excellent book How to Listen to Jazz.

Here is a very good point:

…the importance of maps to the self-driving market is another reason that car companies may struggle to remain market leaders as the industry shifts to fully autonomous technologies. Google, Apple, and Uber have a lot of experience collecting, analyzing, and distributing vast quantities of fast-changing geographic data. Ford, GM, and Toyota don’t.

The rest of the analysis by Timothy B. Lee is interesting as well.

I am not predicting this scenario, but it is useful to think through which paths might restore the growth gains to the American middle class.  From my column in The Upshot, here is the section on China:

Much of the competition for American manufacturing has come from China, and recent research has shown that China’s economic impact in the United States has been bigger than many economists initially thought, and in some ways, it has been more painful. China’s manufacturing has held down American middle-class wages, while soaring Chinese demand for commodities has pushed up resource prices. Of course, cheap Chinese imports have made American paychecks go further, but that is no consolation for people who have lost their jobs or suffered lower wages as a consequence.

Better times may be ahead, though. Higher wages in China — and other emerging nations — are now limiting the competitive advantage of those economies. And perhaps more important for Americans, as China reaches technological maturity, it is likely to shower innovations on consumers, creating a net gain for people in the United States.

China is already the major producer of solar panels and electric cars, for example. It is likely to contribute important innovations in consumer drones and driverless cars and in many other fields: The Chinese government is pouring immense resources into biotechnology, including new gene editing techniques. When it comes to mobile apps, messaging and electronic payments, China is arguably ahead of America. Imagine a future in which Chinese innovations benefit Americans just as the United States benefited Europe and vice versa.

This would mean more competition from China, of course, and lost jobs in some fields, but to simply focus on the negatives would be shortsighted. The reality is that innovators do not capture all or even most of the benefits they bring to the world. Once an idea emerges, its benefits begin to expand, and those benefits will surely spread to the United States.

I believe China will become much more innovative even if Chinese growth goes through continuing turmoil; keep in mind the United States was remarkably innovative in the 1930s throughout the Great Depression.

The column also considers skill-based technical change, and how it might turn more toward less skilled workers, and also…religion and Mormons.

By Jeff Young at the Chronicle, here is one excerpt:

Jeff Young: …I asked Cowen what has surprised him most as his effort has evolved.

Tyler Cowen: I wouldn’t quite call it a surprise, but I’ve been consistently impressed over the last 10 years, more than 10 years, if you make consistently smart content on the Internet, whatever form, there is an audience there. Whether it’s MOOCS or blogs or whatever, YouTube, there really are people just hungry for stuff. How far you can push them is really impressive.

They don’t have to get every bit of it to take away a lot, and for you to give like your heart and soul, like here’s what I think is the important version of the topic, is better to, like, “Oh, are they going to understand this term?” or “Can I say elasticity?” or “Do they know this?” I think it’s a little bit of poison when you think too much that way. I’m not saying overwhelm them with words they don’t know, but if you believe in the material, I think a lot of them are going to get it. It’s like one thing I’ve really learned.

And this:

TC: …People have learned economics is about a debate, and in fact we have a new class of video. The first one just went up an hour ago. Alex and I debate education. How much is it signaling, and how much is it you actually learn?

Jeff Young: Wow. You mean university education?

Tyler Cowen: Yeah, to teach topics as a debate is an underexplored method, and we’re going to do more of this, so look at that video. It’s just Alex and I. We talk to each other. We sort of call each other names in good humor. The idea is that people maybe learn better through conflict.

You know you get some dry presentation, you sort of vaguely nod, but you never know what’s really at stake here. If you don’t know what’s at stake or why someone might disagree, maybe you don’t understand it. To try to teach this way, we’ll see how they’re received, but it’s one of the things we have coming next.

Do read the whole thing, or listen.

China law of the day

by on April 13, 2016 at 2:08 pm in Economics, Law, Web/Tech | Permalink

The government of Shanghai says that under new rules residents who fail to visit their elderly parents will get black marks on their credit records.

A new set of regulations released recently by the government of the eastern city says that adult children living apart from their parents should “visit or send greetings often.” Parents who think their children are not fulfilling this responsibility can file lawsuits against them for neglect.

If the offspring still refuse to follow through with their obligations after a court tells them to, they will have their credit standing negatively impacted, Luo Peixin, deputy director of the city government’s law office, said on a news conference on April 6.

The policy, which takes effect on May 1, is part of the central government’s efforts to promote filial piety, an important aspect of Confucianism, as the country’s population rapidly ages.

Beijing enacted a law in July 2013 aimed at compelling the children of parents older than 60 to visit their parents “frequently” and make sure their financial and emotional needs are met.

Here is the story, and for the pointer I thank Jesse Reynolds, as well as a source on Twitter.

David writes to me:

Today is the launch of a new podcast series on macroeconomics called Macro Musing and I am privileged to be the host. Each week, with the help of a special guest, we will get to explore in depth various macroeconomic topics. If want to go all wonky on macro this is the podcast for you!

So far I have recorded podcasts with the following guests: Scott Sumner, John Taylor, John Cochrane, Cardiff Garcia, Miles Kimball, Ramesh Ponnuru, and George Selgin. There have been a lot of interesting conversations covering topics such as the origins of the Great Recession, the safe asset shortage problem, negative interest rates, the fiscal theory of the price level, the Eurozone Crisis, Abenomics, the Great Depression, China’s economic problems, and alternative monetary regimes. In addition to these interesting topics, I have enjoyed learning how each guest got into macro, either as an academic or journalist, and how they see the field changing over time as new ideas and new technology emerge. I think you will find it fascinating too.

More guest are scheduled, including some Fed officials, but I would love to hear from you on what guests and topics you would like to see on the show. My first guest is Scott Sumner with whom I discuss his views on the Great Recession, NGDP targeting, and his new book on the Great Depression, The Midas Paradox.

I hope to make this a long-term project, but it success depends in part on you subscribing. So please subcribe via itunes or your favorite podcast app and spread the word. Let’s make this podcast a success together and who knows, maybe we can help make the world a better place.

Here is the latest from Silicon Valley:

As tech behemoths and a wave of start-ups double down on virtual assistants that can chat with human beings, writing for AI is becoming a hot job in Silicon Valley. Behind Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana are not just software engineers. Increasingly, there are poets, comedians, fiction writers, and other artistic types charged with engineering the personalities for a fast-growing crop of artificial intelligence tools.

…a new crop of virtual assistant start-ups, whose products will soon flood the market, have in mind more ambitious bots that can interact seamlessly with human beings.

Because this wave of technology is distinguished by the ability to chat, writers for AI must focus on making the conversation feel natural. Designers for Amazon’s Alexa have built humanizing “hmms” and “ums” into her responses to questions. Apple’s Siri assistant is known for her wry jokes, as well as her ability to beatbox upon request.

As in fiction, the AI writers for virtual assistants dream up a life story for their bots. Writers for medical and productivity apps make character decisions such as whether bots should be workaholics, eager beavers or self-effacing. “You have to develop an entire backstory — even if you never use it,” Ewing said.

Even mundane tasks demand creative effort, as writers try to build personality quirks into the most rote activities. At the start-up x.ai, a Harvard theater graduate is tasked with deciding whether its scheduling bots, Amy and Andrew, should use emojis or address people by first names. “We don’t want people saying, ‘Your assistant is too casual — or too much,’ ” said Anna Kelsey, whose title is AI interaction designer. “We don’t want her to be one of those crazy people who uses 15 million exclamation points.”

Here is the full story.

From Christopher Ingraham:

The top five most-searched states are, in order, California, Texas, Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania. And to answer Tyler Cowen’s original question, the bottom five states, in descending order, are Idaho, Vermont, North Dakota, South Dakota, and, at the absolute bottom of the 50-state barrel: Wyoming.

And searches relative to population?:

You can see that the biggest overperformer is, oddly enough, Alabama — it’s the 24th most populous state, but the 15th most frequently-searched state. It’s hard to say what’s driving the discrepancy, but Google’s data offer some clues. For instance, Google’s nifty Correlate tool shows that many Alabama-related searches have to do with sports scores and events — perhaps tied to the popularity of college sports at the University of Alabama. Or, there may be something unique about the state the causes its residents to use the state’s name in Google searches more often — searching for rules and regulations on things like drivers’ licenses and the like.

Other big overperformers include Hawaii and Alaska, Colorado and Connecticut.

On the other side of the ledger, the state that appears to generate the lowest amount of search interest relative to its size is Indiana.

…Louisiana, West Virginia, New Mexico and Idaho also are considerably under-searched compared to their population.

Separately, I received this email from a loyal MR reader:

I am following your most-obscure-state series with some fascination. However, I think the approach is a bit off, because in many cases small states are less obscure than larger ones. Rhode Island is not obscure precisely because most know of it as the smallest state. And even small states produce outlier individuals that elevate their states’ prominence. Rather, I think you should look at obscurity on a per-capita basis — that is, what state is disproportionately obscure compared to its population, economic footprint, &c.
I would suggest Indiana. Our 16th-most-populous state, Indiana is nonetheless relatively obscure for its size.
Consider:
  • Indiana is overshadowed by many of its larger neighbors; northwestern Indiana is part of Chicagoland; southeast Indiana is tied to the Cincinnati and Louisville areas.
  • The best-known historical political figures identified with Indiana are Benjamin Harrison and Dan Quayle — neither well-known.
  • Indiana has far fewer Fortune 500 companies based there than any neighbor except Kentucky (and only one more than Kentucky). Indiana’s big firms tend to be major industrial companies like Eli Lilly and Cummins, important but not consumer-facing and thus contributing to obscurity.
  • Indiana is a major producer of many products, agricultural commodities and mineral resources, but it is the top producer of few, and so doesn’t gain prominence for them (in the way that people associate dairy with Wisconsin or cars with Michigan).
  • Indiana has only one large city, and it’s the 34th-largest U.S. metro area with about 2 million people. States of similar size tend either have much larger metro areas or they have multiple Indianapolis-sized metros.
  • Indiana is not especially diverse — 85% white, and few prominent foreign ethnic minorities concentrated there.
  • In education, Indiana’s best known big school is Notre Dame, which due to its Catholic heritage is not especially associated in the public mind with the state. Purdue is a strong school but ranked 61 by US News — lower than you might expect for a flagship in a state Indiana’s size.
  • Indiana is a place where a lot of notable people are from but where few stay. Think John Roberts, Allan Bloom, Sydney Pollack, Steve McQueen, Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Samuelson. (Indiana’s proximity to Chicago contributes to its obscurity by sucking away some of its greatest talents.)

Sports and culture are probably the only arena in which Indiana escape obscurity In sports, this is due to the Hoosier basketball tradition, Larry Bird, Bob Knight, John Wooden, and the Indy 500.

Culturally, Indiana has produced several highlights. In music, the Jackson 5 are indelibly associated with Indiana. The novels of Booth Tarkington stand out. Cole Porter was born and raised there. The Gaither gospel singers are from and based in Indiana. Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, a minor classic, is set there. Ben-Hur author Lew Wallace was a lifelong Indianan. Indiana has produced some strong comics — Red Skelton, David Letterman, Jim Gaffigan — although they are not popularly associated with Indiana. Jim Davis of Garfield is from there. Films and TV shows set there? HoosiersBreaking Away, Rudy, Parks and Recreation.
…Despite these strong points, the relatively large size of Indiana weighs against them and leaves Indiana the most obscure state on a per-capita basis.
Thanks — I continue to enjoy this series and am looking forward to your posts on Rhode Island and Delaware.
TC again: Here is my earlier post My favorite things Indiana.  But I think we have a winner in the per capita sweepstakes.

Buttonwood presents a trilemma:

The issue may be another example of that common political problem; the trilemma, under which three options are available, but only two at most can be selected. In this case, it is a simple tax system; independent national tax policies; and the existence of multinational companies and investors.

Here is Megan McArdle:

What we’ve seen from the papers so far is not so much an indictment of global capitalism as an indictment of countries that have weak institutions and a lot of corruption. And for all the outrage in the United States, so far the message for us is pretty reassuring: We aren’t one of those countries.

Consider the big names that have shown up so far on the list. With the notable exception of Iceland, these are not countries I would describe as “capitalist”: Russia, Pakistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Egypt.  They’re countries where kleptocratic government officials amass money not through commerce, but through quasi-legal extortion, or siphoning off the till. This is an activity that has gone on long before capitalism, and probably before there was money.

From a Ray Lopez email:

5.  Panama Papers fallout will be: (1) a drive to reduce large denomination bills, (2) a drive to make a ‘paperless’ payment system, (3) a drive to eliminate tax loopholes, (4) a drive towards negative interest rates once paper is abolished

6.  Xi of China is the biggest loser.  He ran on an ‘anti-corruption’ ticket and his Politburo members will be pissed if they see he is corrupt, unless he winks and tells them they are immune from his anti-corruption offensive.  In which case, to pay them off, Xi, needs to appropriate the assets of his enemies to give to his friends.  So possibly it’s a “double down bet” for Xi:  he either folds or has to double down, redoubling his anti-corruption campaign, so he can seize assets to pay off his cronies keeping him in power.  We live in interesting times.

7. The net effect of Panama Papers, along with the FATCA issues above, is that criminals no longer will use law firms, and decent people hiding money as well, which means these services will be offered by more informal channels like from a single proprietor “fixer”.  “Nick the Greek money launderer” will profit, big law firm will suffer.

Here is China in the Panama Papers.

A sex worker in Oklahoma who was filmed using a quadcopter by a self-described “video vigilante” has pleaded guilty to a lewdness charge. According to a report from BBC News, the woman was sentenced to a year in state prison for the misdemeanor, although the case is still pending against her alleged client.

The encounter between the two was filmed by drone pilot Brian Bates, a known figure in Oklahoma City who describes himself as a “video vigilante.” Bates has long used video cameras to capture footage of alleged sex workers, which he uploads to his YouTube channel and his website, JohnTV.com, earning money through ad revenue in the process.

oklahoma

Here is the full story, the photo is of Bates, who because of a famous musical does not live in the most obscure state.

I thank a loyal MR reader for the pointer.  And here is the Roam-E-Selfie drone.

Addendum: It is worse than you think.  In the comments Jason Bayz alerts us to this story:

FEBRUARY 9–An Oklahoma man who has gained national exposure for his “video vigilante” campaign to expose street prostitution in his hometown was arrested yesterday for allegedly paying hookers to ensure that they serviced customers in an area where he could easily film the illicit trysts.

According to the below Oklahoma City Police Department report, Brian Bates, 34, orchestrated the public encounters so he could peddle the resulting videotape to media outlets (some of Bates’s surveillance tapes are offered for sale on his web site).

In his dealings with prostitutes, Bates was choosy, investigators contend.

For example, if a john was a “regular,” Bates asked prostitutes to give “specific signals” so he would know not to bother rolling tape. Investigators also noted that, like any good auteur, Bates “gave direction to the prostitutes on how to complete the act with a high probability of success,” as well as tips on how to spot an undercover cop.

Bates was hit with a felony pandering charge and a misdemeanor count of aiding in prostitution. The pandering rap, which is usually reserved for pimps, carries a minimum two-year jail term, and a maximum of 20 years in the stir.

Jason wins the internet today!

There has been some back and forth on this topic over the last few years, but it now seems to be settled.  Neil Irwin reports:

new research…indicates the proportion of American workers who don’t have traditional jobs — who instead work as independent contractors, through temporary services or on-call — has soared in the last decade. They account for vastly more American workers than the likes of Uber alone.

Most remarkably, the number of Americans using these alternate work arrangements rose 9.4 million from 2005 to 2015. That was greater than the rise in overall employment, meaning there was a small net decline in the number of workers with conventional jobs.

…The labor economists Lawrence F. Katz of Harvard and Alan B. Krueger of Princeton found that the percentage of workers in “alternative work arrangements” — including working for temporary help agencies, as independent contractors, for contract firms or on-call — was 15.8 percent in the fall of 2015, up from 10.1 percent a decade earlier. (Only 0.5 percent of all workers did so through “online intermediaries,” and most of those appear to have been Uber drivers.)

And the shift away from conventional jobs and into these more distant employer-employee relationships accelerated in the last decade. By contrast, from 1995 to 2005, the proportion had edged up only slightly, to 10.1 percent from 9.3 percent. (The data are based on a person’s main job, so someone with a full-time position who does freelance work on the side would count as a conventional employee.)

Here is the full NYT coverage.

But a new study from Robert Clifford, an economist at the Boston Fed, and Daniel Shoag, an assistant professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, finds that when employers are prohibited from looking into people’s financial history, something perverse happens: African-Americans become more likely to be unemployed relative to others.

…What’s surprising is how that redistribution happened. In states that passed credit-check bans, it  became easier for people with bad credit histories to compete for employment. But disproportionately, they seem to have elbowed aside black job-seekers.

I can’t say that mechanism makes me feel better about the world, but there you go. Consider this:

A powerful study published last year in the Review of Economics and Statistics shows something of the opposite happening: When employers began to require drug tests for job applicants, they started hiring more African-Americans.

“The likely explanation for these findings is that prior to drug testing, employers overestimated African-Americans’ drug use relative to whites,” the study’s author explained in an op-ed. Drug tests allowed black job applicants to disprove the incorrect perception that they were addicts.

It’s possible that credit checks were playing a similar role to drug tests, offering a counterbalance to inherent biases or assumptions about black job-seekers.

Here is the Jeff Guo Wonkblog piece, here is one version of the original study.  Here is related earlier work by Daniel Klein.