Andrea Matranga has a job market paper (pdf) which is speculative but interesting:

During the Neolithic Revolution, seven populations independently invented agriculture. In this paper, I argue that this innovation was a response to a large increase in climactic seasonality. Hunter-gathers in the most affected regions became sedentary in order to store food and smooth their consumption. I present a model capturing the key incentives for adopting agriculture, and I test the resulting predictions against a global panel dataset of climate conditions and Neolithic adoption dates. I find that invention and adoption were both systematically more likely in places with higher seasonality. The findings of this paper imply that seasonality patterns 10,000 years ago were amongst the major determinants of the present day global distribution of crop productivities, ethnic groups, cultural traditions, and political institutions.

Here is his home page.

Assorted links

by on November 7, 2014 at 12:10 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. What is the task connectivity of a city?

2. Vanity Fair on Amazon vs. Hachette.

3. What do Chinese college presidents do? (hint: it involves price discrimination, but not just price discrimination).

4. In Tokyo a model will deliver your lunch if you spend at least $263.

5. Upward mobility: mule makes it to the dressage finals.

6. A machine that composes chess problems.

Telepathy over the Internet

by on November 7, 2014 at 7:22 am in Science | Permalink

A amazing paper in PLOS One demonstrating a kind of telepathy over the internet:

…two participants had to carry out a specific task in the form of a series of consecutive trials of a computer game. The game was designed so that the two participants had to play cooperatively, and the required cooperation could only be achieved through direct brain-to-brain communication. The goal of the game was to mind melddefend a city from enemy rockets fired by a pirate ship… One participant was able to see the game on a computer screen, but was not provided with any input device to control the cannon. The second participant could use his/her right hand to press a touchpad, but could not see the game. The two participants were located in separate buildings on the University of Washington’s campus. Specifically, the Sender side was stationed in the Computer Science & Engineering building while the Receiver side was stationed in the Psychology building. The two buildings were located approximately 1 mile apart. The two participants could only communicate with each other through a brain-to-brain communication channel.

During rocket trials, the sender conveyed the intent to fire the cannon by engaging in right hand motor imagery. Electrical brain activity from the Sender was recorded using EEG, and the resultant signal was used to control the vertical movement of a cursor – this allowed the subject to get continuous feedback about imagery performance. When the cursor hit the “Fire” target (a large blue circle) located at the top of the screen, the Sender’s computer transmitted a signal over the Internet to the Receiver’s computer. The two computers communicated using the standard hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP).

The Receiver’s computer was connected through a custom-made serial cable to a TMS machine. Whenever the Receiver’s computer received a fire command, a TMS pulse was delivered to a pre-selected region of the Receiver’s brain. The stimulation caused a quick upward jerk of the Receiver’s right hand, which was positioned above the touchpad. This up-down movement of the hand typically resulted in enough force to trigger a “click” event on the touchpad, causing the cannon in the computer game to be fired as requested by the Sender.

The players were able to perform significantly better than chance at firing the cannon and saving the city.

The content of the communication is obviously low–basically 1 bit–but the author’s offer some intriguing speculation. Language is a significant limit on communication. In Polanyi’s terms we know more than we can say; a lot of knowledge is tacit. But can we say what we know with telepathy?

…current methods for communicating are still limited by the words and symbols available to the sender and understood by the receiver….A great deal of the information that is available to our brain is not introspectively available to our consciousness, and thus cannot be voluntarily put in linguistic form. For instance, knowledge about one’s own fine motor control is completely opaque to the subject, and thus cannot be verbalized. As a consequence, a trained surgeon or a skilled violinist cannot simply “tell” a novice how to exactly position and move the fingers during the execution of critical hand movements….Can information that is available in the brain be transferred directly in the form of the neural code, bypassing language altogether? We explore this idea in the rest of this article….

We have a long way to go on that score. The authors haven’t transferred thought or the pattern of thought but rather have used a kind of intermediary language, namely the computer interpretation of the brain signal. Still, credit the authors with vision.

Oh, and if that isn’t enough to blow your mind, another group has demonstrated human to animal telepathy.

Here is some reporting on a new paper by John Nunley, Adam Pugh, Nicholas Romero, and Richard Seals, here is one bit:

Black applicants faced major discrimination when applying for jobs with a customer focus. Researchers looked for jobs with words like “customer,” “sales,” “advisor,” “representative,” “agent,” and “loan officer” in the description. For jobs such as these, the discrimination gap soared. Instead of facing a 2.8 percentage-point gap between callback rates for whites and blacks, they faced a 4.4-point gap.

For jobs with descriptions that lacked those terms and were instead focused on interaction with coworkers, the level of discrimination collapsed. Descriptions with terms such as “manager,” “administrator,” “coordinator,” “operations,” and so forth, the difference in callback rates was 0.1 to 0.3 percentage points.

In other words, the problem isn’t that Joe Smith doesn’t want to hire young African-Americans, but that he is worried that if he hires a black sales associate, old Mrs. Jones may take her business elsewhere.

You will find the paper, and related work, here.  By the way, the discrimination effect was weakest in the cities of Baltimore and Portland.

For the pointer I thank the esteemed Samir Varma.

Scott Sumner directs us to this passage from Michele Martinez Campbell:

A fascinating new national poll from Quinnipiac University shows that men and women disagree markedly on the question of marijuana legalization.  While men surveyed strongly favor legalization by a margin of 59 to 36 percent, women oppose it by a clear majority of 52-44 percent.  This 15-point gender gap in support for marijuana legalization –let’s call it the “pot gender gap” — is not quite as large as the 20-point gender gap in support for President Obama in the 2012 presidential election, but it is striking.  What’s most interesting, though, is how it confounds the expectations set by the voting gender gap.  In voting, women trend more liberal and Democratic, while men trend more conservative and Republican.  Yet with the pot gender gap, we see women taking the more conservative, law-and-order approach.

The article is here, Scott’s post, with commentary, is here.

A terrified window cleaner was rescued by a high-tech drone after the scaffolding he was on malfunctioned.

The man was cleaning windows close to the top of a high rise building in central Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, when the motorised scaffold stopped working and started tilting dangerously.

The Security Media Department sent a wireless remote-controlled drone to rescue the cleaner amid dramatic scenes yesterday.

From the Daily Mail, there is more here, via the excellent Mark Thorson.

Assorted links

by on November 6, 2014 at 12:10 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Update on the French malaise.

2. The culture that is Ireland/Korea.

3. “[Norway's sovereign wealth fund] owns the equivalent of 1.3 percent of every listed company in the world.”

4. Israelis living in reused shipping containers.

5. The catcalling video, and the importance of good research design.  And the culture that is New Zealand.

I was intrigued by the job market paper of Mariaflavia Hariri from MIT, the abstract is this:

Cities are valuable to the extent they bring people (and jobs) together. To what extent is this value affected by difficulty of commuting from various points in the city to others? While many factors can affect commuting length, this paper investigates one determining factor of urban commuting efficiency, previously highlighted by urban planners but overlooked by economists: city shape. A satellite-derived dataset of night-time lights is combined with historic maps to retrieve the geometric properties of urban footprints in India over time. I propose an instrument for urban shape, which combines geography with a mechanical model for city expansion: in essence, cities are predicted to expand in circles of increasing sizes, and actual city shape is predicted by obstacles within each circle. With this instrument in hand, I investigate how city shape affects the location choices of consumers, in a spatial equilibrium framework à la Roback-Rosen. Cities with more compact shapes are characterized by larger population, lower wages, and higher housing rents, consistent with compact shape being a consumption amenity. The implied welfare cost of deteriorating city shape is estimated to be sizeable. I also attempt to shed light on policy responses to deteriorating shape. The adverse effects of unfavorable topography appear to be exacerbated by building height restrictions, and mitigated by road infrastructure.

Mumbai immediately sprang to mind as a city which ideally would have a more compact shape, especially at the bottom.  You will find her work here.

China ghost markets in everything

by on November 6, 2014 at 1:03 am in Economics, Law, Religion | Permalink

Two officials in China’s southern Guangdong province were arrested after it emerged that they had bought corpses from local grave-robbers and had them cremated in a bid to fulfill state-mandated quotas for such funeral practices. The incident is yet another reminder of the awkward tension between Beijing’s edicts and entrenched traditions in parts of rural China.

The arrested duo were officials responsible for local funerary practices, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. One allegedly paid a grave-robber $489 each for 10 exhumed corpses. The officials needed to meet expected quotas for cremations reported in their jurisdictions (towns that state media has not specified). Many locals entomb their kin in secret to skirt state laws regarding burial, which probably made the officials’ job rather difficult.

“Pushed to meet their quota, the two officials sought to purchase the corpses and send them to funeral parlour for cremation,” Xinhua reported.

And here is a rather vivid two paragraphs:

Body-snatching is, therefore, a lucrative, illicit business, involving bribe-taking local officials who look the other way, specialists capable of dressing up cadavers, and middlemen willing to connect desperate families to organized rings of grave-robbers and body-snatchers.

The practice of burying “ghost brides” also remains very much in the headlines. The old ritual involves burying a deceased young female alongside a dead bachelor, so the male will not be without a companion in the afterlife.

There is more here, and for the pointer I thank Michael Rosenwald.

According to David Schneider and Adam Reich it does, their paper is called Marrying Ain’t Hard When You Got A Union Card? Labor Union Membership and First Marriage.   The abstract is this:

Over the past five decades, marriage has changed dramatically, as young people began marrying later or never getting married at all. Scholars have shown how this decline is less a result of changing cultural definitions of marriage, and more a result of men’s changing access to social and economic prerequisites for marriage. Specifically, men’s current economic standing and men’s future economic security have been shown to affect their marriageability. Traditionally, labor unions provided economic standing and security to male workers. Yet during the same period that marriage has declined among young people, membership in labor unions has declined precipitously, particularly for men. In this article, we examine the relationship between union membership and first marriage and discuss the possible mechanisms by which union membership might lead to first marriage. We draw on longitudinal data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth-79 to estimate discrete time event-history models of first marriage entry and find that, controlling for many factors, union membership is positively and significantly associated with marriage. We show then that this relationship is largely explained by the increased income, regularity and stability of employment, and fringe benefits that come with union membership.

That is via the excellent Kevin Lewis, who cites some other interesting papers at the link.

Assorted links

by on November 5, 2014 at 12:14 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Is Korean evolving into two different languages?  Can it be held together?

2. Dry cell powered cardboard train.

3. Birds found using human musical scales.

4. What does ngdp “cause”?

5. What are the most left-wing and right-wing professions?

6. Hayek’s message for victorious Republicans.

Philip Bump reports:

Note the big swing in the Asian voting bloc, too. In 2012, strong support for the president among Asian-American voters was a surprise. Asian voters preferred the president by 47 points. In 2014, the (low turnout) group split about evenly. It was a 46-point swing.

The full account is here, via Megan McArdle.

The world’s urban population is growing very rapidly, especially in the developing world. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that in India alone such an expansion will require the building of, in essence, a new Chicago every year for the next several decades. The problem with these numbers is not the expense. The problem is political and organizational. Many currently less-developed countries, including India, remain high in corruption and low in efficiency, especially in the administration of their towns and cities. It would be wonderful if foresighted and public-spirited government planners would provide India and other developing nations with wise urban planning but it seems unwise to rely on what has historically been rare for this massive transformation. Is there an alternative?

In Lessons from Gurgaon, India’s private city (working paper) found in a new book Cities and Private Planning  Shruti Rajagopolan and I explore this question. Gurgaon, which I have written about before, shows both the successes and failures of private development. On the surface, Gurgaon is a gleaming, modern city built nearly overnight on wasteland. Gurgaon was built, however, without benefit of planning and its failures–most notably poor and inefficient provision of  water, sewage, and electricity–are a warning. The failures all stem from high transaction costs, Gurgaon’s private developers have simply not managed to Coasean bargain and internalize externalities. It’s clear from Gurgaon that cities need advance planning–a reservation of rights of way for water, sewage and electricity at the very minimum–but does the planning have to be provided by government which is often incapable of such foresight?

The lessons of Jamshedpur, India, suggest another approach. Jamshedpur is a private township, planned from the beginning by visionary businessman Jamshetji Nusserwanji Tata, who, after travelling to the United States to see Pittsburgh, returned to India to found Tata Iron and Steel. Jamshedpur has been run by a single, integrated entity for over 100 years and as it is integrated it has internalized externalities. As a result, Jamshedpur, India’s other private city, has some of the best urban infrastructure in all of India.

Gurgaon shows the benefits of competition. Jamshedpur the benefits of integration. Can we get the best of both worlds?

If the rights to develop Gurgaon had originally been sold in very large packages, some five to seven proprietary but competitive cities could have been created in that region. Within this system the role of the state is to make it possible to auction large parcels of land. Once such parcels and associated rights to develop the land are created, private developers will provision public goods and services up to the edge of their property.

As proprietary communities, the competitive cities would have every incentive to invest in and especially to plan for appropriate infrastructure. Moreover, with five to seven communities in the same region, competitive pressures would keep rents low and at efficient levels for maximizing net benefits (Buchanan and Goetz 1972, Sonstelie and Portney 1978). Within the larger city, subdivisions on the order of neighbourhoods and business districts could be sublet and run by competitive firms with the overarching city establishing rules to internalize externalities. Competitive private governments would also generate experimentation and innovation in new rules that would then spread through intercity learning (Romer 2010).

Thus, Rajagopolan and I conclude:

In the next five decades many entirely new cities with populations in the millions will be built in places where today there is little or no population or infrastructure. Most of the urban development will occur in the developing world where government resources are stretched thin and planning is in short supply. Gurgaon illustrates the scope and the limits of private sector provisioning when the state machinery fails to provide essential public goods. The lesson of Gurgaon, Walt Disney World, and Jamshedpur is that a system of proprietary, competitive cities can combine the initiative and drive of private development with the planning and foresight characteristic of the best urban planning. A proprietary city will build infrastructure to attract residents and revenues. A handful of proprietary cities built within a single region will create a competitive system of proprietary cities that build, compete, innovate, and experiment.

Because they sound mighty interesting:

Bousso is not interested in what goes on outside the causal diamond, where infinitely variable, endlessly recursive events are unknowable, in the same way that information about what goes on outside a black hole cannot be accessed by the poor soul trapped inside. If one accepts that the finite diamond, “being all anyone can ever measure, is also all there is,” Bousso said, “then there is indeed no longer a measure problem.”

In 2006, Bousso realized that his causal-diamond measure lent itself to an evenhanded way of predicting the expected value of the cosmological constant. Causal diamonds with smaller values of Λ would produce more entropy — a quantity related to disorder, or degradation of energy — and Bousso postulated that entropy could serve as a proxy for complexity and thus for the presence of observers. Unlike other ways of counting observers, entropy can be calculated using trusted thermodynamic equations. With this approach, Bousso said, “comparing universes is no more exotic than comparing pools of water to roomfuls of air.”

The article, by Natalie Wolchover and Peter Byrne, is interesting throughout.  I do sort of understand this sentence:

But as attempts to paint our universe as an inevitable, self-contained structure falter, the multiverse camp is growing.

The pointer is from the esteemed David Levey.

It is hard to know what to say — Gordon was a colleague of ours for many years and we all were very fond of him.  He was one of the most creative thinkers of his time.  His contributions include not just the seminal chapters of Calculus of Consent, but a wide range of ideas ranging from law and economics to monetary theory to the economics of insect societies.  Many of Gordon’s best ideas remain somewhat unmined, such as his analyses of jury trials, or his question why there is so little money in politics, relative to what is at stake.  Almost everything Gordon wrote was worth reading and he was also a wonderful critic of the work of others.  He knew a remarkable amount about history, including Chinese history, and was one of the quickest people I ever have met.  Just about everyone has his or her favorite Gordon Tullock story.  Gordon, by the way, took only one class in economics in his life, from Henry Simons, he was otherwise entirely self-taught.