1. For the population of the average county, 62.8% of friends live within 100 miles.

2. Over distances of less than 200 miles, the elasticity of friends to distance is about – 2.0, and about – 1.2 for distances greater than 200 miles.

3. Conditional on distance, social connectedness is significantly stronger within state lines.

4. “Counties with a higher social capital index have less geographically concentrated social networks.”

5. Social connectedness predicts trade flows, even after controlling for distance, and it also predicts patent citations.

That is all from a new NBER working paper by Bailey, Cao, Kuchler, Stroebel, and Wong.  Here is an ungated version.

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit from it:

In a recent Financial Times interview, Sherry Turkle, a professor of social psychology at MIT, and a leading expert on cyber interactions, criticized robot education. “The robot can never be in an authentic relationship,” she said. “Why should we normalize what is false and in the realm of [a] pretend relationship from the start?” She’s opposed to robot companions more generally, again for their artificiality.

Yet K-12 education itself is a highly artificial creation, from the chalk to the schoolhouses to the standardized achievement tests, not to mention the internet learning and the classroom TV. Thinking back on my own experience, I didn’t especially care if my teachers were “authentic” (in fact, I suspected quite a few were running a kind of personality con), provided they communicated their knowledge and radiated some charisma.


My biggest concern about robot education, by the way, involves humans. Children sometimes trust robots too much. Teachers and administrators could use robots to gather confidential information about children and their families, as the children may think they are talking to a robot only, rather than creating a database for future scrutiny. This could be addressed by comprehensive privacy standards, probably a good idea in any case.

Do read the whole thing.

A Chinese mall has introduced “husband storage” facilities for wives to leave their spouse while they shop, it’s reported.

According to The Paper, the Global Harbour mall in Shanghai has erected a number of glass pods for wives to leave any disgruntled husbands that don’t want to be dragged around the shops.

Inside each individual pod is a chair, monitor, computer and gamepad, and men can sit and play retro 1990s games. Currently, the service is free, but staff told the newspaper that in future months, users will be able to scan a QR code and pay a small sum for the service using their mobile phones.

A few men that tried out the pods told The Paper that they thought they were a novel idea.

Mr Yang said he thinks the pods are “Really great. I’ve just played Tekken 3 and felt like I was back at school!”

Another man, Mr Wu, agreed, but said that that he thought there were areas for improvement. “There’s no ventilation or air conditioning, I sat playing for five minutes and was drenched in sweat.”

Here is the full account, via Michelle Dawson.

An Ohio judge has ruled that data from a pacemaker can be used in court.

Defendant Ross Compton, who faces aggravated arson charges, claims he was woken by a fire at home, packed a case, broke a window and threw out the bag.

A cardiologist told police his explanation was “highly improbable” based on his heart rate and cardiac rhythms at the time.

Mr Compton’s lawyer said allowing pacemaker evidence expanded government snooping into private data.

Here is the full story, and here is an appalling add-on:

According to local paper Journal News, Judge Charles Pater said: “There is a lot of other information about things that may characterise the inside of my body that I would much prefer to keep private rather than how my heart is beating. It is just not that big of a deal.”

Via Michelle Dawson.  And here is an article about retail interference with brain implants.

A while ago I tweeted something like “If you use 2x on your podcasts, should you also aspire to speak twice as fast to others?”, or something like that.  In turn I started thinking about the optimal speed of written responses.

Sometimes you won’t email back until you have something quite good to say, and discourse may be inefficiently slow.  You are waiting, not only because you might be busy, but also to protect your reputation. It would be socially preferable to just “get the response over with,” even if you seem a little duncey every now and then.  In fact you are a little duncey.

Alternatively, you may drum up an obviously perfunctory response, so that no one judges your intelligence by it.  In equilibrium, some people will overinvest in being brusque over email for this reason.

If one has been smart or clever, it raises the bar for future interactions, raises expectations, and so slows down discourse.  So often (too often?) we judge others by the trend.  In that case, cleverness should ascend with time, at least in the initial stages of relationships.  If that is the case, do not raise initial expectations so high, though neither can you sound too stupid at first.  Perhaps the same is true for blogs and blog posts.

Or say you wish to flatter the sender of the email.  What is the appropriate response pace toward that end?  Not one second later, but not three years later either.

The now-defunct gmail chat eased some of these problems by lowering expectations for quality of response, by making “right away” the default pace.  I suspect one does gmail chat, or whatever is replacing it now, mainly with people where “expectations of quality” already are fairly well set.

If you have a really clever email response, you might wish to send it right away, even if you could come up with a slightly better version after a day of thought.  The immediate send will produce a more favorable impression.

People who are quick thinkers should answer their email right away.  Some of this may be a general attachment to a propensity for “quick response.”  But they will seem smarter this way too, albeit less smart once their recipients figure out this logic.

This is a Bloomberg podcast, here is their summary of the highly intelligent and personable Khanna:

I recently sat down with Representative Ro Khanna of California to talk about technology, jobs and economic lessons from his perspective as Silicon Valley’s congressman. Khanna, who is serving his first term, is vice chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and previously taught economics at Stanford University, law at Santa Clara University, and American jurisprudence at San Francisco State University.

We discuss regional visas, EITC, Facebook, manufacturing employment, and much more.

It is sufficient to reassign to each customer the ownership of all the digital connections that she creates — what is known as a “social graph.” If we owned our own social graph, we could sign into a Facebook competitor — call it MyBook — and, through that network, instantly reroute all our Facebook friends’ messages to MyBook, as we reroute a phone call.

If I can reach my Facebook friends through a different social network and vice versa, I am more likely to try new social networks. Knowing they can attract existing Facebook customers, new social networks will emerge, restoring the benefit of competition.

Today Facebook provides developers with application-program interfaces that give them access to its customers’ social graph, Facebook Connect and Graph A.P.I. Facebook controls these gates, retaining the right to cut off any developer who poses a competitive threat. Anticipating this outcome, very few developers invest seriously in creating alternatives, eliminating even the threat of competition.

By guaranteeing access to new customers’ data and contacts, a Social Graph Portability Act would reduce the network externality dimension of the existing digital platforms and ensure the benefits of competition.

Here is the full NYT piece.  Is it feasible that the data could be transferred in a ready-to-use form?  And can the contacts object that they did not themselves consent to a transfer of their associated information say to “Alt-RightBook”?

From my email:

Dear Professor Cowen,
In places with weak institutions or corruption, might we want some workers to be so bad at their jobs that we can rest assured they are at least honest? Here’s my anecdote…
In New York I’m frustrated that uber drivers follow google maps so literally. They go crosstown on major boulevards like 23rd Street or 34th Street like Google Maps tells them to, when everyone knows a sidestreet would be quicker. When my driver’s app was glitching out, it took me ten minutes to persuade him that we were going in the wrong direction because he trusted his phone to the death. In NYC I long for old school cabbies who had the whole grid memorized and knew all the tricks.
But yesterday, I had to take an uber from a remote nontourist area of Sao Paulo to the airport, and I was thrilled that my uber driver was as clueless as I was. I don’t speak a word of Portuguese and I was bewildered by the city’s topography, and one hears about kidnappings and coerced tipping from unsavory drivers occasionally. But because this guy was hopeless without google maps, all I had to do to know I could trust him was to glance at his dashboard-mounted tablet and observe whether he was following the directions. That way, I knew very transparently that we were going to the airport not to his secret lair across town. If he was skilled enough to navigate without aid, his trustworthiness would have been, to my detriment, opaque.
Can this remotely be generalized? In situations where public trust is in question, it’s optimal for some workers to be bad at their jobs if it means that they have to observably rely on external guidance? For example, maybe it’s reassuring that in an airline cockpit, the first officer is relatively inexperienced, because our imagination of the captain’s additional “mentorship” role increases our confidence that things will be done by the book, like in a classroom, as opposed to expediently, like in a normal workplace?
As with my prior emails to you, I hope either that this has been interesting, or that stealing a minute of your attention is not as costly as I fear!
Matt Grossman

An excellent book by Brian Merchant.  Two neat things I learned that I hadn’t known before.  First, when you are typing the software guesses which letters might be coming next and gives you extra latitude in hitting those keys.  (I believe this oddly makes the QWERTY keyboard efficient once again, also.)  Second, there are non-disclosure agreements for reading a possible non-disclosure agreement to sign (or not).  You have to sign one of those before you even get to see the non-disclosure agreement for the work at hand, in other words if you don’t sign the NDA you can’t even report on how much secrecy they were demanding from you.  Apple used those.

A new ranking shows that for the second year running, the world’s fastest supercomputer is TaihuLight, housed at the National Supercomputing Center in Wuxi, China. Capable of performing 93 quadrillion calculations per second, it’s almost three times faster than the second-place Tianhe-2. And in third spot this year is a newly upgraded device, called Piz Dain, at the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre, which recently had its performance boosted by the addition of Nvidia GPUs.

Sadly for America, the upgraded Piz Dain pushes the Department of Energy’s Titan supercomputer, which is housed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, into fourth spot. Able to make 17.6 quadrillion number crunches per second, Titan is just a fifth as fast as TaihuLight. In its defense, the U.S. still claims five of the top 10 spots, and it is home to 169 of the supercomputers that make up the fastest 500. China, meanwhile, can only claim 160.

Here is the full article.

Ben Thompson writes:

…you can see the outline of similar efforts in logistics: Amazon is building out a delivery network with itself as the first-and-best customer; in the long run it seems obvious said logistics services will be exposed as a platform.

This, though, is what was missing from Amazon’s grocery efforts: there was no first-and-best customer. Absent that, and given all the limitations of groceries, AmazonFresh was doomed to be eternally sub-scale.


This is the key to understanding the purchase of Whole Foods: to the outside it may seem that Amazon is buying a retailer. The truth, though, is that Amazon is buying a customer — the first-and-best customer that will instantly bring its grocery efforts to scale.

Today, all of the logistics that go into a Whole Foods store are for the purpose of stocking physical shelves: the entire operation is integrated. What I expect Amazon to do over the next few years is transform the Whole Foods supply chain into a service architecture based on primitives: meat, fruit, vegetables, baked goods, non-perishables (Whole Foods’ outsized reliance on store brands is something that I’m sure was very attractive to Amazon). What will make this massive investment worth it, though, is that there will be a guaranteed customer: Whole Foods Markets.

…At its core Amazon is a services provider enabled — and protected — by scale.

Here is the full piece, with many more background and points.

Matt Yglesias: “A big city daily newspaper, physical bookstores, a supermarket chain. Bezos’ futuristic vision is all coming together.”

Alex T. tweeted: “I already do 80% of my shopping at Amazon and Whole Foods. I am beginning to get worried.”

Ross Douthat: “What if Bezos intends to turn Whole Foods into a Mormon-style charitable storehouse …”

Me: “Perhaps preserving my favorite brands of Whole Foods dark chocolate is Jeff Bezos’s plan for short-run public charity.”

@JesalTV: Jeff Bezos: “Alexa, buy me something from Whole Foods.” Alexa: “Sure, Jeff. Buying Whole Foods now.” Jeff Bezos: “WHA- ahh go ahead.”

Here is an earlier Conor Sen piece on Amazon acquisition strategy.

And Stratechery on Amazon.

And above all else: “Dow opens down 10 points. Amazon jumps 3% after deal to buy Whole Foods. Walmart slumps 7%, Kroger plunges 16%”

Here are more retail share price declines.

Car fact of the day

by on June 9, 2017 at 3:00 am in Web/Tech | Permalink

Twenty years ago, cars had, on average, one million lines of code. The General Motors 2010 Chevrolet Volt had about 10 million lines of code — more than an F-35 fighter jet.

Today, an average car has more than 100 million lines of code. Automakers predict it won’t be long before they have 200 million.

That is from Nicole Perlroth at the NYT.

I consider that question in my latest Bloomberg column, and actually contrary to conventional wisdom the rationality of extreme presidential tweeting cannot be ruled out.  Here is just one bit in a longer argument:

On top of all that, now imagine that you consider nationalism, resurrecting America as it once was, negotiating from strength, returning to older notions of masculinity and “building a wall” as the major issues of the day. You don’t see the traditional Republican concerns with cutting taxes and repealing Obamacare as all that salient for reversing America’s deterioration, even if you are willing to go along with those reforms. Nor, given your nationalism and unilateralism, do you see alienating allies as a major cost of opining so openly.

In that rather pessimistic view of the world, it might make sense to give up entirely on the idea that your administration will accomplish much in the way of policy, at least as the concept is traditionally understood. Instead, you might be thinking of shifting the window of policy debate over a 10- to 20-year period. That is, you might be hoping the American public will be thinking in more Trumpian terms a few administrations from now, even if outwardly they have rejected your legacy. It then will be the case that mainstream politicians will work to implement some Trumpian ideas through more traditional channels.

Do read the whole thing.

My product: http://marginalrevolutionbooks.com/books/2017/5

Marginal Revolution is one of the most popular economics blogs on the Internet, with a libertarian slant. It has been in constant operation since 2003, and has posted over 4000 links to books on Amazon.

I got the idea for this product from the Indie Hackers interview for Hacker News Books. https://www.indiehackers.com/businesses/hacker-news-books

The site is totally functional, now I need to promote it and get some users (like me) who are superfans of Marginal Revolution and often buy books after reading about them on there.

Feedback and ideas appreciated!

Here is the link, that was posted by linuxfan2718 at IndieHackers, and for the pointer I thank P.