Ian Zack, Say No To The Devil: The Life and Musical Genius of Rev. Gary Davis.

Alexander Klose, The Container Principle: How a Box Changes the Way We Think.

Kevin Madigan, Medieval Christianity: A New History.

Marshall Sahlins, Apologies to Thucydides: Understanding History as Culture and Vice Versa.

Today, I am away, and sadly don’t even have time to be chatting with Miles Kimball, who is visiting GMU…

The end of doggie privacy?

by on May 6, 2015 at 1:05 pm in Data Source, Law, Science | Permalink

Dogs can run, but they can’t hide from PooPrints.

BioPet Vet Lab, which specializes in canine genetic testing, is partnering with the appropriately named London borough of Barking and Dagenham to track down dog owners who fail to remove their pets’ public deposits.

Starting in September 2016, people who don’t pick up after their dogs could be fined 80 pounds, or about $125. The registration of dogs’ DNA could become mandatory five months earlier if a pilot program proves successful.

There is more here, via Ray Lopez.  And here is a related story from Vancouver.

Wednesday assorted links

by on May 6, 2015 at 12:26 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. “Still working on it.”

2. Dani Rodrik on the models behind trade arguments.

3. Are the benefits of moderate drinking a myth?

4. 2011 Ed Glaeser column on riots.

5. Japanese crying rooms.

6. The Hollywood model for the future of work.  And there will be a new economics rap video.

*Digital Gold*

by on May 6, 2015 at 9:37 am in Books, Economics, History, Science | Permalink

The author is Nathaniel Popper and the subtitle is Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money.

This excellent work is the book on Bitcoin you’ve been waiting for, most importantly it doesn’t require that you are the kind of person who wants to read a book on Bitcoin.  I devoured my copy right away, it is full of information, explanation, and good humor, definitely recommended and entertaining throughout.

Here is Popper’s piece on Bitcoin and Argentina, here is Popper on Twitter.

1. Circa 1970, “43 percent of blacks under 21 years of age [have]…a great respect for the [Black Panther Party].”  Many thousands of young black people joined the party.

2. The North Vietnamese “discussed releasing POWs in exchange for the release of Panthers from U.S. jails.”

3. Algeria granted the Panthers national diplomatic status and an embassy building of their own.

4. By mid-1972, the Party “was basically a local Oakland community organization once again.”

5. The Party formally closed its last office in 1982.

That is all from Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin, Jr., Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party, pp.2-3.  Here is my previous post about the Black Panthers.

After the pagan fighters left their stronghold, a crowd of  Christian Alexandrians and soldiers swarmed the hill.  One of them took an axe and with all his strength struck the jaw of the monumental statue of Serapis…The crowd then hacked the rest of the statue into pieces and dragged the fragments off to each of the city’s regions to be burned.

…The destruction of the Serapeum [A.D. 392] was a momentous event, second perhaps only to the Gothic sack of Rome in 410 for the amount of attention it received from contemporary sources.

That is from the new and excellent book The Final Pagan Generation, by Edward J. Watts.  Watts tries to reconstruct the worldviews and impressions of the pagans who witnessed the onset of Roman state-sanctioned Christianity; an underlying theme of the work is how weak a sense we have of what is truly significant in our time, or not.  I often find Roman histories to be difficult to parse, but this one is a model of lucidity.

Here is Wikipedia on that temple and its destruction.  Here is another discussion.



Fans of Game of Thrones know that “a Lannister always pays his debts.” So too do nearly all alumni from Notre Dame, Vassar, Harvey Mudd, and Brigham Young, at least when it comes to federal student loans.

There is more here, from Brookings, via Matthew C. Klein.  Ahem…and for whatever reason, students from St. Johns do well too…

Tuesday assorted links

by on May 5, 2015 at 4:30 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Interest-bearing securities when interest rates are below zero.

2. Problems with trading water in California.

3. Is the market for college coaches efficient?

4. Might LSD make a comeback in Norway?

5. Ross Douthat summary statement of what we know about the war on poverty.

The limited data available do not suggest a recent overall increase in the number of homicides by police or the racial composition of those killed, despite the high-profile cases and controversies of 2014-2015, according to a New York Times analysis. But a January 2015 report published in the Harvard Public Health Review, “Trends in U.S. Deaths due to Legal Intervention among Black and White men, Age 15-34 Years, by County Income Level: 1960-2010,” suggests persistent differences in risks for violent encounters with police: “The rate ratio for black vs. white men for death due to legal intervention always exceeded 2.5 (median: 4.5) and ranged from 2.6 (95% confidence interval [CI] 2.1, 3.1) in 2001 to 10.1 (95% CI 8.7, 11.7) in 1969, with the relative and absolute excess evident in all county income quintiles.”

And this:

For the most recent period where statistics are available (2003-2009), the BJS found that 4,813 persons “died during or shortly after law enforcement personnel attempted to arrest or restrain them… About 60% of arrest-related deaths (2,931) were classified as homicides by law enforcement personnel.” However, among these 2,931 homicides by law enforcement personnel, 75.3% were reported to have taken place in response to a violent offense — constituting a force-on-force situation, such as an intervention with an ongoing assault, robbery or murder: “Arrests for alleged violent crimes were involved in three of every four reported homicides by law enforcement personnel.” Still, 7.9% took place in the context of a public-order offense, 2.7% involved a drug offense, and among 9.2% of all homicides by police no specific context was reported.

There is much more of interest at the Harvard Kennedy School link.

After promoting women’s groups in West Bengal as a route to development a West Bengali woman asked Lant Pritchett:

You all are from countries that are much richer and doing much better than our country so your country’s women’s self-help groups must also be much better, tell us how women’s self-help groups work in your country.

Pritchett’s inability to answer the question led him to what I call Pritchett’s postulates of development, four criteria to decide whether factor X is an important determinant of development.

  1. More developed countries must have more X than less developed countries.
  2. The developed countries must have more X than when they were less developed.
  3. Recent development successes must have more X than development failures.
  4. Countries that are developing rapidly must have more rapid growth of X than those that are developing slowly.

Since more developed countries don’t have noticeably more women’s self-help groups, this idea fails Pritchett’s postulates. Indeed, so do many fashionable development ideas being tested by RCTs which is one reason why Pritchett’s postulates are controversial in the development community.

Paul Romer, however, (whose important blog post led me to Pritchett’s postulates) has a different approach. Instead of dismissing ideas that fail the Pritchett postulates let’s look for ideas that pass them.

Romer provides evidence that urbanization passes all of Pritchett’s postulates. I think he is correct and that suggests that policies to increase the rate of urbanization could have a very big payoff for development.

We are used to thinking about urbanization as a consequence of development but it is surely also a cause. Consider, for example, the micro evidence. It’s not that rich people move to cities, it’s poor people who move to cities to become rich. We also know that cities are engines of innovation.

We can have too much urbanization or too much in one place as when we get a bloated capital city. Nevertheless, it seems that we could speed the rate of urbanization by reducing the cost of urban development – both the obvious costs like improving land allocation in say India but also improving sanitation and air quality in order to lower the health costs of urbanization. Similarly, well planned, efficient, even beautiful cities increase the benefits of urbanization. Urbanization policy in general becomes growth policy.

How else can we increase the rate of urbanization in developing countries?

There is a new paper on this topic, by Thomas Kim:

To examine whether the recent price patterns and transaction costs of Bitcoin represent a general characteristic of decentralized virtual currencies, we analyze virtual currencies in online games that have been voluntarily managed by individuals since 1990s. We find that matured game currencies have price stability similar to that of small size equities or gold, and their transaction costs are sometimes lower than real currencies. Assuming that virtual currencies with a longer history can provide an estimate for Bitcoin’s prospects, we project that Bitcoin will be less influenced by speculative trades and become a low cost alternative to real currencies.

I remain more skeptical, as I do not see where the significant, non-speculative demand for Bitcoin comes from, outside a game setting.  Imagine a future where the Chinese have removed capital controls and the private clearing houses preempt and take on a version of real time clearing, based on a (partially) publicly available ledger.  Can that be more than five years away?  Maybe less?

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

From The Economist:

The ever larger “staffing industry” may be having a similar effect. It is important across a much wider swathe of the economy than is often realised; having started out in the 1960s supplying office temps, today temping companies like Kelly Services, Adecco and Randstad mainly supply light manufacturing and industrial workers. In 2013 Kelly Services was America’s second-largest private-sector employer, after Walmart, with 750,000 staff. America’s 2.9m temps account for 2% of its jobs.

Temping is flourishing across the G7. In Japan, once the land of the shûshin koyô, or job for life, transient employment is ever more common; in 2014 Recruit, the country’s largest temp agency, listed for $19 billion on the Tokyo stock exchange. In Britain everything from the Olympics on down comes with temporary security guards supplied by G4S and temporary caterers provided by Compass, the country’s largest and third-largest private employers, respectively.

The industry provides flexibility for both workers and firms, and its ability to match workers on its databases to jobs may be very helpful: the 2010 Nobel prize was awarded for work showing how better job search and matching could lower unemployment. But labour aggregators that compete for business on the basis of helping lower clients’ staff costs have an incentive to keep pay low. In 2014 a report by Rebecca Smith and Claire McKenna of the National Employment Law Project, an American lobby group, claims that staffing agencies cut temps’ bargaining power.

The feature story is of interest more generally, much of it on when real wages will start to rise again by significant amounts.

Xian bleg

by on May 4, 2015 at 4:59 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

What to do, where to go, and above all what to eat?  I do of course have the standard guidebooks, what can you add to the basic advice?

And how easy is it to buy a ticket for the fast train from Beijing?

Monday assorted links

by on May 4, 2015 at 1:40 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

1. Master branding has limits.

2. Robbing banks by request.

3. Brad DeLong defends Obamacare.

4. Ice cream truck plays Arnold Schoenberg.

5. What questions did people have in 1690?

6. The global labor glut.

7. Justin Wolfers on the new Chetty and Hendren study, which as far as I can tell sides with Steve Sailer on what is the biggest problem with poverty, namely that you usually end up living near other poor people.

Ramez Naam has an opinion, backed up by some reasonable estimates:

For most of the US, this battery isn’t quite cheap enough. But it’s in the right ballpark. And that means a lot. Net Metering plans in the US are filling up. California’s may be full by the end of 2016 or 2017, modulo additional legal changes. That would severely impact the economics of solar. But another factor of 2 price reduction in storage would make it cheap enough that, as Net Metering plans fill up or are reduced around the country, the battery would allow solar owners to save power for the evening or night-time hours in a cost effective way.

That is also a policy tool in debates with utilities. If they see Net Metering reductions as a tool to slow rooftop solar, they’ll be forced to confront the fact that solar owners with cheap batteries are less dependent on Net Metering.

That same factor of 2 price reduction would also make batteries effective for day-night electricity cost arbitrage, wherein customers fill up the battery with cheap grid power at night, and use stored battery power instead of the grid during the day. In California, where there’s a 19 cent gap between middle of the night power and peak-of-day power, those economics look very attractive.

And the cost of batteries is plunging fast. Tesla will get that 2x price reduction within 3-5 years, if not faster.

Read the whole thing, and note the discussion of India too.