President Nicolas Maduro said on Sunday that Venezuela will launch a cryptocurrency to combat what the leftist leader says is a financial “blockade” against the crisis-hit nation spurred by U.S. sanctions.

Maduro said the OPEC member’s new currency, “petro,” will be backed by natural resources reserves although he did not provide details on the logistics of its roll-out.

Here is the link, no additional text, believe what you wish!  For the pointer I thank M.  Do any of you have a more detailed Spanish-language source?

Further Sunday assorted links

by on December 3, 2017 at 3:02 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

Sunday assorted links

by on December 3, 2017 at 8:23 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. A musician’s take on Google and net neutrality.  Not my view, but that is what makes life interesting…

2. A very good thread on personnel economics.

3. Diane Coyle reviews the new Edith Penrose biography; Penrose’s book was a favorite of mine as a teen.  And Pankaj Mishra reviews Sujatha Gidla.

4. Why Nigeria wins at Scrabble (The Economist).

5. Raising a teenage daughter (mother writes the essay, teenage daughter comments on it).

6. Clickhole explains Bitcoin.

That is by by Caitlin Knowles Myers, and the full title is “The Power of Abortion Policy: Reexamining the Effects of Young Women’s Access to Reproductive Control.”  It is published in the most recent JPE, here is the abstract:

I provide new evidence on the relative “powers” of contraception and abortion policy in effecting the dramatic social transformations of the 1960s and 1970s. Trends in sexual behavior suggest that young women’s increased access to the birth control pill fueled the sexual revolution, but neither these trends nor difference-in-difference estimates support the view that this also led to substantial changes in family formation. Rather, the estimates robustly suggest that it was liberalized access to abortion that allowed large numbers of women to delay marriage and motherhood.

In other words, the pill was less influential than you might think.  And from the paper proper:

…policy environments in which abortion has legal and readily accessible by young women are estimated to have caused a 34 percent reduction in first births, a 19 percent reduction in first marriages, and a 63 percent reduction in “shotgun marriages” prior to age 19.

And:

Between the 1950 and 1955 birth cohorts, the fraction of women having sex prior to age 18 increased from 34 to 47 percent.

And:

…cohorts that experienced the most rapid changes in sexual behavior exhibited little change in fertility.

And:

Lahey (2014)…finds that the introduction of abortion restrictions in the nineteenth century increased birthrates by 4-12 percent…

I thought this was one of the most interesting papers I have read all year.  Here is an earlier, ungated copy.

*The Dead March*

by on December 2, 2017 at 2:46 pm in Books | Permalink

The author is Peter Guardino and the subtitle is A History of the Mexican-American War.  This book brought the War to life for me as no other book has, most of all by considering issues of morale, organization, and how hard did the Mexicans really fight back (more than many sources claim).  Here is one good “fact of the day”:

Between 1829 and 1860 around 14 percent of regular army soldiers deserted every year.

That’s for the American army, not the Mexicans.  This one is good enough to make my best of the year list, so it will be on the addended version.

Saturday assorted semiotics links

by on December 2, 2017 at 12:16 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. “Men can’t handle the truth of transparent government, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” tells us. And so, Andersen gives us a consolation prize: a brave little boy who speaks up to reveal a truth that ultimately empowers the boss.”  Link here.

2. Hidden signals in corporate ribbon-cutting ceremonies?

3. NYT obituary for Jerry Fodor.

4. “Chinese man repaints road markings to make his commute quicker.  Bus passenger thought having a special lane to turn left was slowing down traffic going straight on so he tried to remedy it with paint and brush.”  He was fined $150.

5. What do Belgian princes and American academics have in common?

Best non-fiction books of 2017

by on December 2, 2017 at 1:02 am in Books, Uncategorized | Permalink

Here is my list, more or less in the order I read them, and the links typically bring you to my lengthier comments:

Neil M. Maher, Apollo in the Age of Aquarius.

Daniel W. Drezner, The Ideas Industry: How Pessimists, Partisans, and Plutocrats are Transforming the Marketplace of Ideas.

John F. Pfaff, Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform.

Mary Gaitskill, Somebody with a Little Hammer, Essays.

Rob Sheffield, Dreaming the Beatles: The Love Story of One Band and the Whole World.

David Garrow, Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama.

James C. Scott, Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States.

David Der-Wei Wang, editor. A New Literary History of Modern China.

Richard O. Prum, The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World — And Us.

David B. Roberts, Qatar: Securing the Global Ambitions of a City-State.

Ken Gormley, editor,  The Presidents and the Constitution.

Peter H. Wilson, Heart of Europe: A History of the Holy Roman Empire.

Brian Merchant, The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone.

Jean M. Twenge, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.

Bruno Maçães, The Dawn of Eurasia.  Technically this doesn’t come out until January, but I read it smack in the middle of 2017 to blurb it.  It is my pick for “best of the year,” if I am allowed to count it.  It is one book that has changed how I frame 2017 and beyond.

Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake, Capitalism Without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy.

Tim Harford, Fifty Inventions that Shaped the Modern Economy.

Dennis C. Rasmussen, The Infidel and the Professor: David Hume, Adam Smith, and the Friendship That Shaped Modern Thought.

Richard White, The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896.

William Taubmann, Gorbachev: His Life and Times.

Diane Coffey and Dean Spears, Where India Goes: Abandoned Toilets, Stunted Development, and the Costs of Caste.

Sujatha Gidla, Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India.

Victor Davis Hanson, The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict was Fought and Won.

Mike Wallace, Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919.

Yassin Al-Haj Saleh, The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy.

Bryan Caplan, The Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money.

Douglas Irwin, Clashing Over Commerce: A History of US Trade Policy.

Here is my shortened list for Bloomberg.  Here is my fiction list.

The NYTimes has an excellent piece on how difficult it is to build new housing in California, even in places where zoning allows such housing on paper. It includes this amazing anecdote:

Then there is Patterson + Sheridan, a national intellectual property law firm that has its headquarters in Houston and recently bought a private jet to ferry its Texas lawyers to Bay Area clients. The jet was cheaper than paying local lawyers, who expect to make enough to offset the Bay Area’s inflated housing costs.

And the gif below:

Read the whole thing.

Gif by Karl Russell | Source: BuildZoom

Doug’s new book Clashing over Commerce: A History of US Trade Policy is the greatest book on trade policy ever written, bar none. and also a splendid work of American history more generally.  So I thought he and I should sit down to chat, now I have both the transcript and audio.

We covered how much of 19th century American growth was due to tariffs, trade policy toward China, the cultural argument against free trade, whether there is a national security argument for agricultural protectionism, TPP, how new trade agreements should be structured, the trade bureaucracy in D.C., whether free trade still brings peace, Smoot-Hawley, the American Revolution (we are spoiled brats), Dunkirk, why New Hampshire is so wealthy, Brexit, Alexander Hamilton, NAFTA, the global trade slowdown, premature deindustrialization, and the history of the Chicago School of Economics, among other topics.  Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Here goes. The claim that 19th century American growth was driven by high tariffs. What’s your take?

IRWIN: Not really true. If you look at why the US economy performed very well, particularly relative to Britain or Germany or other countries, Steve Broadberry’s shown that a lot of the overtaking of Britain in terms of per capita income was in terms of the service sector.

The service sector was expanding rapidly. It had very high productivity growth rates. We usually don’t think as that being affected by the tariff per se. That’s one reason.

We had also very high productivity growth rates in agriculture. I’ve done some counterfactual simulations. If you remove the tariff, how much resources would we take out of manufacturing and put into services or agriculture is actually pretty small. It just doesn’t account for the success we had during this period.

COWEN: Is there any country where you would say, “Their late 19th century economic growth was driven by tariffs?” Argentina, Canada, Germany, anything, anywhere?

IRWIN: No. If you look at all those, once again, in late 19th century, they were major exporters, largely of commodities, but they did very well that way. You know that Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world in the late 19th century. It really wasn’t until they adopted more import substitution policies after World War I that they began to fall behind.

Definitely recommended, and here is Doug’s Wikipedia page.

Best fiction books of 2017

by on December 1, 2017 at 1:21 am in Books | Permalink

I didn’t like most of the widely reviewed fiction of this year, but I did have a few favorites, namely:

Domenico Starnone,  Ties.  This is one of the better Italian novels of the last few decades.  It is short, easy to comprehend, utterly compelling, and the basic story line is that of a married couple and their children, to say more would spoil the plot.  The introduction and translation are by Jhumpa Lahiri, also first-rate (by the way, here is my conversation with Jhumpa, toward the end she discusses this project).  This Rachel Donadio NYT review provides very useful background knowledge.

Ge Fei, The Invisibility Cloak.  This short Chinese noir novel, with a dash of Murakami, is one of this year’s “cool books.”  I finished it in one sitting.  Set in Beijing, the protagonist sells audio equipment, and then strange things happen.  Here is a good interview with the author.

Invisible Planets: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese SF in Translation, edited and translated by Ken Liu.  A strong collection, with two stories by Cixin Liu.  Here is a new article on Chinese science fiction.

Min Jin Lee, Pachinko. An old-fashioned literary drama, unfolds slowly but is gripping, reminds me of Dickens and also Vikram Seth but set in Korea and Japan as an extended set piece running throughout most of the 20th century.  For me, this was clearly the #1 fiction book of the year, and I didn’t include it in my Bloomberg column only because I read it after the column was in the pipeline.  It’s also rich with history and social science, a real winner.  NYT picked it as one of their top ten of the year.

Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, the new translation and edition by Stuart Warner and Stéphane Douard.

My best fiction reading of the year was Cixin Liu’s Three-Body Problem trilogy, though it wasn’t published in 2017.  It is one of the best science fiction classics, ever.  Just to recap, I like volume one the most, and it is the most complex, but for many readers disorienting.  You don’t find out the real plot until p.272, so perhaps spoilers will help you.  Volumes two and three are more in the style of classic science fiction, a’la Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke.

My best “classic I had never read before” gets two picks, the first being James Fenimore Cooper’s Deerslayer (review at the link).  The second is Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, though come to it with at least a basic understanding of its Anglo-Catholic milieu.  Sooner or later this novel will be completely unintelligible to even highly educated readers, except for a few specialists.

In Spanish I will pick Juan MarséRabos de lagartija, from 2011, don’t bother with the English translation.  In German it was Thomas Bernhard and Siegfried Unseld, Der Briefwechsel, a series of letters exchanged between an author and his publisher, some of them concern money (I haven’t finished it yet but so far it is quite consistent in quality).  As good as a really good Bernhard novel, also from 2011, there is no English-language translation.

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is the closing bit:

Perhaps it’s not always an appetizing thought, but in many contexts wealth aids liberty, and the freedom to keep one’s wealth can limit political degeneration.

There are many possible outcomes here, and it is also possible that offshore finance can make tyranny worse.  But it seems to me opinion has turned against these institutions, without much serious consideration of the political economy issues.  By the way:

The top five countries on this list, [offshore wealth] measured as a percentage of GDP, are United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Argentina, based on estimates from 2007.

Worth a ponder.

Thursday assorted links

by on November 30, 2017 at 12:25 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

The Good Wife

by on November 30, 2017 at 11:22 am in History, Medicine | Permalink

Steffanie Strathdee, [is] the associate dean of global health science at the University of California, San Diego. In 2016, she helped revive her husband from a coma with a combination of phage therapy and antibiotics after he’d come back from Egypt with an untreatable bacterial infection, and she’s since become a kind of phage activist, helping others, like the Smiths, coordinate their own phage hunts.

That’s just a sidenote in an article on phages, viruses that kill bacteria. Seems like there’s a movie there.

Phages were long used in the Soviet Union to treat bacterial infections but are only now being studied in the West as bacteria evolve resistance to antibiotics.

Addendum: Dallas Weaver makes excellent points in the comments.

Some people think so, in the associated video clip Joe Stiglitz says Bitcoin should be banned.  Here is some FT skepticism from Jean Tirole.

I used to think Bitcoin was a bubble, but I no longer hold this view.  If nothing else, put all the more complicated factors aside and think of Bitcoin as competing for some of the asset space held by gold and also to some extent art.  Gold, too, in its hedging functions is a “bubble,” though not a bubble.  It is hard to ship, but has some extra value because it is perceived as a focal asset and one that does not covary positively in a simple way with the market portfolio.  The same is true of Bitcoin, yet that kind of focality-based “bubbliness” can persist for centuries.  Note by the way that gold has become less of a hedge, partly because inflation has been low and partly because China and India dominate the gold market more than a few decades ago.  So new and better hedges are needed.  And what a backstory Bitcoin has, making it a strong competitor in this regard.

I am not saying that is the Bitcoin story, it is simply a Bitcoin story, a minimalist account that can appeal to skeptics.  And you can buy this story and still think the current price is either too high or too low.

This estimate claims there is $241 trillion of wealth in the world, make of that what you will (there is something nonsensical about such aggregate measures because they are not traded against anything).  If you imagine people wish to hold one quarter of one percent of that in crypto form, that gets you to about $600 billion in value.  Currently crypto assets (on good days) hover near $300 billion in market capitalization.  Is that so crazy?  I genuinely don’t know, but that is one way of thinking about market cap in this sector.

I will continue to watch with interest.