Sunday assorted links

by on January 21, 2018 at 2:21 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

*Off the Charts*

by on January 21, 2018 at 12:24 am in Books, Education, Science, The Arts | Permalink

As I’ve already mentioned, the author is Ann Hulbert and the subtitle is The Hidden Lives and Lessons of America’s Child Prodigies.  This is an excellent book, and so far I am overwhelmed by the high quality and quantity of books coming out this January (in comparison to last year’s near drought).  You don”t have to care about prodigies per se, I would recommend this to anyone in Silicon Valley or finance who thinks about how to find and recruit talent, or anyone interested in the history of art, science, or technology.

I had not known that musician Henry Cowell was the protege of Thorstein Vebeln’s ex-wife, Ellen Veblen.  Here is just one bit about Henry:

He was in his element. As Clarissa noted, Henry was highly receptive without being unduly impressionable. “Always he has worked mostly alone,” she observed, “browsing for information, when he felt in need of it, whenever a door opened.”

As a child, he quickly outgrew his town’s public library, and was suspected of skimming the books he claimed to have read.  He could give a clear and detailed summary of each.  He was born in rural Menlo Park, formal schooling never really worked for him, and Irish music remained a touchstone of his composing, albeit supplemented with tone clusters, extreme dissonance, and a variety of rhythmic innovations.  To many people at the time, his music sounded like noise.

Here is a short YouTube clip of Cowell playing the piano.

It’s not a “this puts all the pieces together for you book,” but still I am finding it engrossing.  I take the overall message to be a) mentorship is very important for prodigies, and b) most mentors have no idea what they are doing.

Once they moved to Indiana University and started the workshop, they were able to return to the initial idea.  Initially, Elinor Ostrom was hired for teaching “Introduction to American Government” on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 7:30 a.m.  “How could I say no?” she joked later.

That is from Vlad Tarko’s new and very useful biography of Ostrom.  Of course in 2009 she was both the first political scientist and the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in economics.

Saturday assorted links

by on January 20, 2018 at 12:14 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Rod Dreher on Cowen-Douthat.

2. “Interestingly, some prodigies may actually do better when their eccentricities are seen by loving adults as disabilities first — and talents second.”  Here is a good NYT review of Ann Hulbert’s Off the Charts: The Hidden Lives and Lessons of America’s Child Prodigies.

3. Do lower class people have more wisdom for resolving conflicts? (speculative)

4. “More than 20 per cent of Japan, an area the size of Denmark, has no readily contactable owner. By 2040 the projected area is bigger than the Republic of Ireland — a spreading nightmare for government, construction and the property industry, because if nobody knows who owns the land then nobody, except for flytippers, can use it. Forestry roads go unmaintained, solar farms are left unbuilt and taxes uncollected. According to a private sector working group on unowned land, by 2040 the annual economic cost will rise from ¥180bn ($1.6bn) to ¥310bn.”  That is Robin Harding from the FT.

5. MoMA announces an upcoming exhibition on Yugoslav concrete architecture.

What I’ve been reading

by on January 20, 2018 at 1:15 am in Books | Permalink

I do not have time to read it now, but this appears to be an amazing and very high quality volume: David Biale, et.al., Hasidism: A New History, over 800 pp. but it does all appear to be well-written and also interesting, often gripping.

Shaun Walker, The Long Hangover: Putin’s New Russia and the Ghosts of the Past.  Most of all useful for the Russia-Ukraine recent history.

John C. Hulsman, To Dare More Boldly: The Audacious Story of Political Risk.  A consistently interesting history of political risk analysis, I most liked this sentence: “The chapters themselves are baroque in structure, a fond homage to the genius of the pioneering musician and peerless producer Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, particularly his work on his masterpiece Pet Sounds.”

Peter J. Dougherty, Confessions of a Scholarly Publisher (not yet on Amazon).  Peter was the director of Princeton University Press for many years, and these are his thoughts on the (much underrated) importance of university presses.  I would stress that Michael Aronson (of Harvard University Press) and Peter were two of the most important figures in my entire career.

Tim Rogan, The Moral Economists: R.H. Tawney, Karl Polanyi, E.P. Thompson, and the Critique of Capitalism.  The subtitle says it all.  People talk less about Tawney these days, but his book is well worth reading if you don’t already know it.

I perused them only briefly, but these seemed attractive:

Joshua B. Freeman, Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World.

Timothy Tackett, The Coming of Terror in the French Revolution.

Arrived in my pile and not yet scrutinized is:

Anne Fleming, City of Debtors: A Century of Fringe Finance.

Into the United States that is:

Overall, the relationship is strong and positive (r = .56, p < 0.001): immigrant groups that are more skill-selected tend to have higher average incomes. The five most skill-selected groups are: Taiwanese, Nigerians, Swedes, Indians and Swiss. The five least skill-selected groups are: Mexicans, Salvadorans, Hondurans, Portuguese and Cape Verdeans. For example, 82% of Nigerians are high-skilled, while only 4% are low-skilled. By contrast, only 14% of Mexicans are high-skilled, while 57% are low-skilled.

Methodological caveats: I was unable to match a number of the ancestry groups (e.g., ‘Hmong’, ‘Jewish’, ‘Cajun’); the income data are not adjusted for household size or reporting bias.

That is from Noah Carl, here are his other essays.  For the pointer I thank Dan Klein.

Friday assorted links

by on January 19, 2018 at 12:01 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. New and interesting Jordan Peterson article: “He speaks in rapid-fire, um-less sentences. He doesn’t smile much.”  In my view Peterson is one of the five most influential public intellectuals today.

2. Paul McCartney talks about the bass.

3. Gender bias in economic texts.  And more from The Economist.

4. The gravity of every state’s most important trading partner.

5. Boston is favored in the betting odds for Amazon HQ2.

A man threw his body onto a self-driving car — a GM Cruise AV — causing a car vs. pedestrian collision at the 16th and Valencia intersection earlier this month, the DMV reported Wednesday.

Operating in “autonomous mode,” the Cruise AV was stopped at a green light, facing northbound on Valencia, waiting to make a right turn onto 16th Street as pedestrians crossed.

Suddenly, a man ran across Valencia Street against the “do not walk” sign, shouting, and struck the left side of the car’s rear bumper and hatch with his entire body. This is all according to a report the self-driving car manufacturer must file with the DMV in the event of a collision.

The man sustained no injuries, but the car did. It suffered “some damage to its right rear light,” according to the report.

Here is the full story.

“Israel should have been a water basket case,” says Siegel, listing its problems: 60% of the land is desert and the rest is arid. Rainfall has fallen to half its 1948 average, apparently thanks to climate change, and as global warming progresses, Israel and the whole Levant are expected to become even drier – and from 1948, Israel’s population has grown 10-fold.

During that time, the country’s economy grew 70-fold. But instead of starting to waste water, as happens when a society becomes wealthier, it used its new affluence to implement what Siegel calls “the Israel model” of water management.

That model includes drip irrigation, the world’s highest rate of water reclamation and recycling, high prices when necessary, massive desalination, fixing leaks early and frequently, discouraging gardening, and mandating water-efficient toilets.

Are you listening California?  Here is the article from Ruth Schuster at Haaretz.  Here is Wikipedia on water policy in Israel.  Here is the miracle of Israeli dairy; Israeli cows are far more productive than most other cows, mostly because of technology.

The life of Edith Penrose

by on January 19, 2018 at 12:21 am in Books, Economics, History | Permalink

That is the subtitle, the title is No Ordinary Woman, and the author is Angela Penrose, daughter-in-law of Edith.  Here is one sentence:

Pen also wrote to Edith of his deepening love for her and how he wished she had remained in Virginia with him.

What a dramatic and eventful book.  Edith Penrose (1914-1996) is a not so well-known but highly underrated economist, with her major contributions coming in the theory of the firm and industrial organization.  As a girl, she survived only because her father shot a rattlesnake about to kill her.  Later, her first husband was murdered, right before their first child was born.  She and her second husband, working in Switzerland, helped Jews escape from Germany, and she later did food planning during the war in England.  In 1948 the couple lost one of their three children, right before his third birthday.  Later she received a doctorate in economics from Johns Hopkins, studying under Fritz Machlup.  Machlup at one point wrote a ten-page letter to her, with the top proclaiming: “I implore you to shut off your hypersensitivity and to overlook it if I sound condescending, arrogant or otherwise unpleasant.  I just want to be helpful.”

She headed the Owen Lattimore Defense Fund.  Later, she did not feel entirely comfortable teaching at Johns Hopkins (she was treated badly and not tenured) and so she ended up teaching in Baghdad and Beirut and was also an important early faculty member at INSEAD, perhaps their first world class hire.  She became an expert on energy economics and multinationals, traveling and advising around the world more or less without stopping.  Drawing on her doctoral work, she also published on IP problems for developing economies, an area where she was well ahead of her time.

She enjoyed writing poems and limericks for her own pleasure.  She also was known for her “direct questions” and her “disconcerting remarks.”

I would describe her work as halfway between economics and the business school tradition, broadly in the Austrian school but more descriptive and without the political slant of Mises and Hayek.  Her contributions include:

1. She insisted that models ought to consider where firms were in the midst of a disequilibrium process, rather than assuming perfect competition or some other smoothly honed end-state.  History matters.

2. She was the founding thinker behind “resource-based” theories of the firm, whereby firms are best understood in terms of what resources they have access to, rather than their products.  This was a dominant approach from the 1980s onward, though she received only marginal credit for her seminal role.  She also focused on which were the slack resources of a firm or not, as a means of ascertaining where the firm was headed, and ran all this analysis through a lens of expectations and perceptions, reflecting her studies with Machlup.  She thought in terms of what a firm’s “moat” might be, as you might expect from a contemporary Silicon Valley analyst.

3. She developed a theory of how some firms would grow very large, but based on “economies of growth” rather than economies of scale per se.  She tried to explain how there was a lumpiness to the growth process itself.  Difficulties of coordination serve as the ultimate limit on firm size.

4. In her theories knowledge creation drives economic growth, and that occurs largely within firms.  The cohesive shell of the firm helps to integrate knowledge.

I would describe her style as “every sentence tries to have some insight,” rather than “forcing you to come away with definite conclusions.”  Those of you who are used to models or data may find it frustrating to read her, though every sentences reeks of intelligence.

It does not seem she marketed her work very hard, but rather she was content to work out puzzles and pointers for her own satisfaction.  I read her work as an undergraduate, as it was recommended to me by some of the Austrian economists, and my recent rediscovery of it has been a pleasant surprise.

If you are going to worry about bilateral deficits, here is one to keep you up at night:

According to South Korea’s World Institute of Kimchi, 89.9 percent of the kimchi purchased by South Korean restaurants in 2016 was imported from China.

The kimchi trade first went into deficit in 2006, triggering soul-searching and a headline-grabbing scandal…

South Korea imported more than 275,000 tonnes of kimchi last year, 99 percent of it from China, the Korea Customs Service (KCS) said, and exported just more than 24,000 tonnes.

The deficit stood at US$47.3 million by value, up 11 percent year-on-year and the largest since the KCS began tracking the data in 2000.

Price is a major factor in the trade, with imports costing just US$0.50 per kilogram in 2016, according to Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corp, while exports — primarily destined for Japan — averaged US$3.36 per kilogram…

UNESCO inscribed South Korean kimchi on its intangible cultural heritage list in 2013, saying: “It forms an essential part of Korean meals, transcending class and regional differences.”

Here is the full article, via the excellent Mark Thorson.

Thursday assorted links

by on January 18, 2018 at 12:43 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

Why do governments sometimes engage in mass killings? Mass killings could help governments to suppress the opposition–that seems obvious–but it’s also true that mass killings can create blowback and further stiffen the opposition’s resolve. Uzonyi and Hanania offer a simple theory and some clarification:

We argue that government mass killing during war reduces opportunities for the opposition to return to military conflict in the future. This allows for longer periods of post-conflict peace. However, government atrocities that begin after the end of a civil war create new grievances without diminishing the ability of opponents to fight. This makes a faster return to conflict more likely. Statistical analysis of all civil wars between 1946 and 2006 strongly supports our arguments, even when we account for selection effects regarding when governments are more likely to engage in mass killing. These results reveal that both during-war and post-war tactics influence civil war recurrence, but that the same tactic can produce different effects depending on the timing of its use.

Essentially the authors are arguing that civil wars sometimes end when one side decisively wins. Not surprising but how about this for an uncomfortable thought:

We stress that mass killing is a grizzly and morally appalling
tactic. But it does appear to keep a country at peace for a
longer duration once a conflict ends. If the international
community disrupts these effects of mass killing, it may be
inadvertently increasing the likelihood that civil war will recur. Thus, if the international community chooses to intervene in conflicts to protect civilians, member states must also
be willing to remain in the country over the long term to
help the government and opposition groups refrain from returning to war. Unfortunately, few states have demonstrated
an appetite for such long-term commitments
.

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg article, here is one bit:

What is striking about immigration, and immigration policy, is the very simple but oft neglected fact that it concerns human bodies. Any exercise of immigration law thus requires some violence, either explicit or implicit, against those bodies. It will mean the rounding up and forcible restraint of bodies, the widespread use of prisons and other coercive holding chambers, and tearful scenes of airport separation. Those methods will be applied to individuals who do not enjoy the full protections of the U.S. Constitution, who are vulnerable to mistreatment during the process, and who do not always have full fluency in the English language or a full understanding of their legal rights. The resulting problems are especially high costs, not only because of the associated dollars, but also because our precious self-image as a humane country implies keeping such episodes to a minimum. Too many violent stories and images, even when they technically can be justified by laws, damage our conception of our country. Eventually that will shape our future behavior and not for the better.

A somewhat lax enforcement of immigration restrictions is in fact the friend of the future of the rule of law, not the enemy.

Do read the whole thing.

Compensation for the heads of some elite private K-12 schools in New York City is nearing $1 million.

Much in the city’s private school world can seem beyond the norm: the tuition and fees (topping $50,000 a year), the kindergarten application process (interviews for 4-year-olds), the facilities (climbing walls). And so too executive compensation that exceeds the pay of many college presidents.

Pay packages often include deferred compensation and perks like housing, housekeeping, social club dues and free tuition for heads’ children. Chiefs of New York City schools earn far more than the national average, due to the high cost of living, ambitious fundraising duties, competition for talent, relatively large enrollments and other factors, according to the National Association of Independent Schools.

The median base salary for heads of the city’s private schools is $493,478 this academic year among 44 city schools in a survey by the association. That compares to $275,000 nationwide. The group says the city’s pay for heads grew faster as well: Its median salary jumped 70% in a decade, compared with 45% nationwide.

At least nine heads of private K-12 schools in New York City earned total yearly packages topping $800,000, according to 2015 federal tax forms, the most recent year available.

Here is the WSJ piece, via the excellent Samir Varma.