Here is my next column from Bloomberg View, here is one excerpt:

The broader and more disturbing implication is that the entire global economy may be more vulnerable to mood swings. Our peers influence our moods, but today’s peers are more global than ever because of social media and the spread of satellite and cable television. That could make a given mood swing in one nation or region more potent and further-reaching than before.

Insofar as pessimistic moods spread across borders more readily, the notion of safe havens will weaken. There is a longstanding result in financial research that in bad times national stock markets move together more closely, and in ways that may not be justified fully by fundamentals. It is now common for some cross-country stock indices to have correlations as high as 0.8, which was unprecedented several decades ago. In the 1970s those same correlations might have been 0.4 or lower yet.

Unfortunately, contagion may be more dangerous than in the past, because right now the world is not in such an ideal place…

As for finance and investment, higher contagion rates will mean that many assets have higher systemic risk and lower diversification value, because they are not well insulated from the travails of the global economy. “Decoupling” is now recognized to be largely a myth. That may be one reason why negative nominal yield securities are so popular and seem to be sustainable, contrary to expectations but a few years ago.

The growing contagion of mood swings also may be a factor behind the slowdown in economic globalization. Why go to the trouble of investing abroad, for instance, if those assets do not yield much risk protection compared to one’s home market?

The most disturbing possibility may be that in today’s world, bad moods spread across borders more readily than good moods. The most nefarious sign of this is the apparent effectiveness of social media in radicalizing some people at a distance and turning them into violent perpetrators.

Do read the whole thing.

Bryan Caplan writes:

The fact that Londoners showed little sympathy for Brexit is telling: People who experience true mass immigration first-hand tend to stop seeing it as a problem.  “Backlash,” as Tyler Cowen calls it, is a symptom of insufficient migration – the zone where immigrants are noticeable but not ubiquitous.  I know he disagrees, but I honestly can’t figure out why.

The post makes many other different and interesting points, but I’ll stick with this one.  Here goes:

1. Had the UK had much freer immigration, London would be much more crowded.  With truly open borders, people would be sleeping on the sidewalks in large numbers.  London itself would have turned against such a high level of immigration, which quickly would have turned into a perceived occupation.

2. Changes often have different effects than levels: “Where foreign-born populations increased by more than 200% between 2001 and 2014, a Leave vote followed in 94% of cases. The proportion of migrants may be relatively low in Leave strongholds such as Boston, Lincolnshire, but it has soared in a short period of time. High numbers of migrants don’t bother Britons; high rates of change do.”

In other words, had there been higher levels of immigration into non-London parts of the UK, the backlash may well have been stronger yet.  For a careful reader of the Caplanian corpus, that is in fact a Caplanian point and I am surprised it did not occur to Bryan.

3. The highest quality and most easily assimilating immigrants will be attracted to London and the greater London area.  Packing Birmingham with London-style levels of immigration won’t give you London-style immigrants, nor will it turn Birmingham into London.

4. London already has a population pre-selected to like immigration.  Spreading London-like levels of immigration to the rest of England wouldn’t make immigration as popular elsewhere as it is currently in London, even if that immigration went as well elsewhere (which would not be the case, see #3).

5. Post 1980s, England underwent a very rapid and significant change with respect to the number of immigrants it allowed to stay in the country.  If that wasn’t fast enough for the open borders idea to avoid a backlash along the way, then perhaps the new saying ought to be “Only whiplash avoids backlash.”  But that won’t exactly be popular either.

There is a very simple interpretation of current events, including of course the Trump movement in the United States.  It is “the backlash effect against immigration is stronger than we used to think, and we need to adjust our expectations accordingly.”  When Bryan writes “I know he disagrees, but I honestly can’t figure out why”, I think he is simply afraid to stare that rather obvious truth in the eye.  In any case, it’s staring rather directly at him.

Theresa May has indicated that Brexit could be delayed as she said she will not trigger the formal process for leaving the EU until there is an agreed “UK approach” backed by Scotland.

The Prime Minister on Friday travelled to Scotland to meet Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, and discuss plans for Britain’s Brexit negotiation.

In a sign that the new Prime Minister is committed to keeping the Union intact, she said she will not trigger Article 50 – the formal process for withdrawing from the EU – until all the devolved nations in the country agree.

That is from The Daily Telegraph.  Here is my previous post on whether Article 50 ever will be invoked.

Here is my first column for Bloomberg View (more on that transition soon), on the research of Erik Myersson:

In autocracies, successful coups often improve economic performance, perhaps by replacing an incompetent or malevolent leader. In democratic countries, however, a successful coup is associated with lower per capita growth rates by an average of 1 to 1.3 percentage points per year over the following decade. On average, these coups reverse beneficial economic reforms, especially for the financial sector.

When a coup does overthrow a democratically elected government, it tends to bring a military leader and significant changes in policy, and not usually for the better. There are long-run correlations of such successful coups against democracies with lower investment, lower schooling and higher infant mortality.

…for failed coups in democracies the more general historical results are quite different. In fact, they are difficult to distinguish from no economic growth effects at all. Given the various imprecisions of statistics, this does not prove that failed coups will have no growth effects, but it can be said that the numbers give us no clear reason to be worried, at least not over the 10-year time horizon chosen by Meyersson. This may be one reason why asset markets do not seem to be panicking over the failed Turkish coup attempt.

To be sure, there are some possible or even likely short run effects of the recent turmoil, such as declines in tourism or foreign investment. Still, the data as a whole are showing that the long-run fundamentals of democracies with failed coups tend to reassert themselves within the 10-year time horizon, and those short-run disruptions end up mattering less than we might think.

Do read the whole thing.  You will note that shares of the Turkish closed end mutual fund are still up about thirteen percent for the year (FT link), though down 2.5 percent at Friday’s close.

Now if Turkey had left the European Union, that would be a different matter altogether…

Sunday assorted links

by on July 17, 2016 at 7:32 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

Here is Erik Hurst, from an excellent piece profiling Erik Hurst:

Right now, I’m gathering facts about the possible mechanisms at play, beginning with a hard look at time-use by young men with less than a four-year degree. In the 2000s, employment rates for this group dropped sharply – more than in any other group. We have determined that, in general, they are not going back to school or switching careers, so what are they doing with their time? The hours that they are not working have been replaced almost one for one with leisure time. Seventy-five percent of this new leisure time falls into one category: video games. The average low-skilled, unemployed man in this group plays video games an average of 12, and sometimes upwards of 30 hours per week. This change marks a relatively major shift that makes me question its effect on their attachment to the labor market.

To answer that question, I researched what fraction of these unemployed gamers from 2000 were also idle the previous year. A staggering 22% – almost one quarter – of unemployed young men did not work the previous year either. These individuals are living with parents or relatives, and happiness surveys actually indicate that they quite content compared to their peers, making it hard to argue that some sort of constraint, like they are miserable because they can’t find a job, is causing them to play video games.

This problem, if that is the right word for it, will not be easily solved.

A central Pennsylvania man is accused of spraying fluid used to embalm a human brain on marijuana that he then smoked.

State police in Carlisle on Thursday charged Joshua Lee Long, 26, with abuse of a corpse and conspiracy.

WGAL-TV says court records indicate Long’s aunt discovered the brain in a department store bag while cleaning out a trailer.

…Court records indicate a coroner concluded the brain was real and that Long supposedly named it Freddy. According to the arrest affidavit, the coroners who examined the brain believe it is “most likely” a stolen medical specimen.

Here is more, via Tim B.

Saturday assorted links

by on July 16, 2016 at 12:48 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. “My most important advice here is stark and politically very incorrect: Don’t give too much weight to the social importance of the issue; instead, do what captures your intellectual interest and creative imagination.” That is from Avinash Dixit (pdf).

2. How Viennese culture shaped Austrian economics, includes a video on what a painting can tell us about Austrian economics.

3. A simple guide to Brexit trade negotiations, a very good piece with many lessons.

4. Singapore is getting its own Michelin Guide.

In other words, last night was an outlier.  Here is Jonathan M. Powell and Clayton L. Thyne in the Journal of Peace Research:

We also see some interesting trends in the frequency of coup attempts over time. As shown in Figure 2, there is a fairly clear decline in the total frequency of coup attempts over time. The high point for coup attempts came in the mid-1960s, followed by two more bubbles in the mid-1970s and the early 1990s. The number of successful coups has likewise decreased over time. We saw 12 successful coups in both 1963 and 1966. The mid- to late-1970s also saw a brief burst of successful coups (ranging from 3 to 9 for each year). An interesting trend emerges when we look at the percentage of coup attempts that resulted in successful regime changes, which we plot on the right side of the Y-axis. The mean success rate is 48% during the entire time span. This rate saw early peaks around 1970 and 1980, and then a decline until the turn of the century. However, we see another spike in the success rate starting in 2003. Twelve of the 18 (67%) coup attempts since then have been successful, and only one of the most recent four coup attempts has failed. While coups have certainly waned over time, the recent success of coup plotters suggests that coups remain a key element of governmental instability.

I cannot readily pull out Figure 2 from the pdf, but it is on p.7 of the document.  Note that their data run up through 2010, and thus do not cover the Arab Spring.

Here is Naunihal Singh, writing at Monkey Cage a few years ago:

More fundamentally problematic, however, is the assumption that popular opinion has an impact on coups. Although this claim is common in political science, there is no evidence to support it. Over the course of writing my book, “Seizing Power: The Strategic Logic of Military Coups,” I spent 300 hours talking with participants in 10 coup attempts in Ghana and statistically analyzed the determinants of every coup attempt and outcome in the world from 1950 to 2000. Based on this evidence, I argue that there is no reason to believe that military factions hesitate to attempt coups when popular opinion is against them, or that coup attempts are more likely to fail when the populace is opposed.

Over the course of this research, I observed that conspirators devoted very little consideration during coup plotting to the question of how the population would react. Coup makers are largely convinced that their cause is just (even when the coup comes from a partisan or personal interest), and that they will have widespread popular support for their actions, with perhaps limited opposition coming from entrenched special interests.

…there is no relationship between economic growth rates and the likelihood of a coup. Similarly, there is no relationship between regime type and coup attempts. Even though democracies are presumed to have higher levels of legitimacy than other kinds of political regimes, they were no more or less likely to experience coup attempts. Lastly, coup attempts were actually more likely to occur during presidential election years, which suggests that conspirators were acting to thwart the popular will rather than being constrained by it.

…The bottom line is that the dynamics of a coup attempt are almost entirely internal to the military.

Read the whole thing.  Nam Kyu Kim dissents from some of those propositions.  Note that since early 2015, Turkish growth rates have been in the four to six percent range, hardly miserable.

From Istanbul, follow him here.  Here is my 2010 post “Why Timur Kuran is one of our most important thinkers.”  Timur’s work has held up very well since then, to say the least.

Addendum: Here are remarks from Turkish economist Dani Rodrik.

Go to this link, and click on “Coup-proofing in Turkey.”  (Or try here.)  It is a recent 2006 account of what the Turkish government has tried to do to make the country coup-proof, by Gokhan Bacik and Sammas Salur.  They tried many institutional changes toward that end.  Here is one paragraph:

In terms of coup-proofing, the first issue is the military aspect. Gül is now the commander of the armed forces. First of all, any high level military appointment requires his consent. All major military appointments and promotions also require his official endorsement. Yet, the traditional alliance between the president and the army against the government was dissolved. In the past, the corridor between the army and the president worked so far as an instrument of influence over the political elites. The formula “army plus the president”, to remind six of the former presidents were generals, put the government into a restricted zone. Thus, by the fall of presidency, the officers lost a very important historical corridor that kept them legally in the political game. Now, putting aside a third costly option they should either obey the president or stop. Ironically, as a result of this situation, weekly meetings are scheduled between the prime minister and chief of staff as no routine tête-à-tête meeting ever took place before. The lack of such a regular meeting in the past was basically the army’s autonomous position. Gül’s presidency, a man out of the traditional Kemalist quota, weaken the traditional role of army vis a vis political elites.

It doesn’t seem it worked!  The paper nonetheless makes for interesting reading.  It talks about increasing power for the courts, changes to the intelligence services, increasing reliance on the police, and other attempted coup-proofing strategies in Turkey.  Note that in the past Turkish military coups have been relatively bloodless and swift; we’ll see if that is still the case.  If things do turn violent, which seems at least possible given what I am right now seeing on my TV screen, that suggests in some cases “coup-proofing” may be overrated.

Friday assorted links

by on July 15, 2016 at 11:53 am in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Do you have a doppelganger?  The chance is higher than you might think.

2. What do scientists report as some of the main problems facing science?  Hint: one of them is “not enough money.”

3. Why pharma opposes pot legalization: “…in the 17 states with a medical-marijuana law in place by 2013, prescriptions for painkillers and other classes of drugs fell sharply compared with states that did not have a medical-marijuana law. The drops were quite significant…”

4. Mike Pence’s economic voting record.

5. Is Britain done as a Western power?  And the Financial Times and Cardiff Garcia do an overrated vs. underrated podcast with me, starts at 8:15.  (Self-recommending.)

6. From last year, my chat with Peter Thiel.

The FDA versus the Tooth

by on July 15, 2016 at 7:20 am in Economics, Law, Medicine | Permalink

The NYTimes has an incredible story on a simple, paint-on liquid that stops tooth decay and prevents further cavities:

Nobody looks forward to having a cavity drilled and filled by a dentist. Now there’s an alternative: an antimicrobial liquid that can be brushed on cavities to stop tooth decay — painlessly.

The liquid is called silver diamine fluoride, or S.D.F. It’s been used for decades in Japan, but it’s been available in the United States, under the brand name Advantage Arrest, for just about a year.

The Food and Drug Administration cleared silver diamine fluoride for use as a tooth desensitizer for adults 21 and older. But studies show it can halt the progression of cavities and prevent them, and dentists are increasingly using it off-label for those purposes.

Ari Armstrong has the right reaction:

So the Japanese have been using this drill-free treatment for “decades,” yet we in the United States have had to wait until last year to get it. And the only reason we can get it now to treat cavities is that it happens to be allowed as on “off-label” use for what the FDA officially approved it for.

The NYTimes continues:

Silver diamine fluoride is already used in hundreds of dental offices. Medicaid patients in Oregon are receiving the treatment, and at least 18 dental schools have started teaching the next generation of pediatric dentists how to use it.

…The main downside is aesthetic: Silver diamine fluoride blackens the brownish decay on a tooth. That may not matter on a back molar or a baby tooth that will fall out, but some patients are likely to be deterred by the prospect of a dark spot on a visible tooth.

…[But] “S.D.F. reduces the incidence of new caries and progression of current caries by about 80 percent,” said Dr. Niederman, who is updating an evidence review of silver diamine fluoride published in 2009.

Fillings, by contrast, do not cure an oral infection.

But as Armstrong writes the craziest part of the story is this:

American dentists first started using similar silver-based treatments in the early 1900s. The FDA is literally over a century behind the times.

It seems that the future of dental treatment has been here all along but a combination of dentists wanting to be surgeons, lost knowledge, and FDA cost and delay prevented it from being distributed. Incredible.