Two all-purpose pieces of advice: small groups and mentors

That is the theme of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

The first piece of advice stems from what has been dubbed in Silicon Valley “the small group theory.” It goes like this:

  • When working on any kind of problem, task or question, embed yourself in a small group of peers with broadly similar concerns.

And:

The second near-universal piece of advice is this:

  • Get mentors.

Those two pieces of advice, unlike most advice, hold for a very broad variety of contexts.  Do read the column, but here is some further detail:

Mentorship can be general or specialized. I have had classical-music mentors, art-market mentors, country-specific mentors when I lived in Germany and New Zealand, foreign-language mentors, chess mentors, economics mentors, philosophy mentors, writing mentors and friendly mentors to help with the basic emotional issues of life. I’ve tried to find mentors for just about everything. Sometimes the relationship lasts only a week or a month, other times for years.

Aside from providing teaching and advice, the mentor, like the small group, helps make an issue or idea more vivid: A living, breathing exemplar of success stands before you. The mentor makes a discipline feel more real and the prospect of success more realistic.

As a corollary, in addition to trying to find mentors, you should be willing to become a mentor yourself. Even if you do not have advanced understanding in some particular area, almost certainly there is someone who knows less than you do and who could use assistance. Being a mentor also helps you understand how to learn and appreciate your own mentors.

A mentor doesn’t have to be older than you, and in fact some of your mentors probably should be younger, especially since technologies are starting to change more rapidly. If you are 50 years old, the idea of an 18-year-old crypto mentor isn’t crazy. If the metaverse turns into a reality, don’t look to the graybeards for tutelage.

Recommended.

Estonian E-Residency

A useful post on getting E-Residency in Estonia:

Being an e-Resident of Estonia means that you get remote access to the Estonian economy from anywhere in the world. It doesn’t mean you get to vote or receive access to Estonian welfare services, or even that you get to live there. However, access to the Estonian market also means access to the European Union’s market —twenty-six economies which, when combined, constitute the world’s third largest.

Starting a business in the United States is hard and complicated and full of all kinds of expenses. Trust me, Spectacles has taught me that lesson at least. As an e-Resident or citizen of Estonia, however, it’s incredibly simple and inexpensive. Opening a business in the country costs €120, and everything can be done online through Estonian government web portals which feature detailed and useful explanations of everything one needs to know. This is why Estonia has the most startups per capita in the EU and is ranked the most entrepreneurial country in Europe by the World Economic Forum.

Becoming an e-Resident of Estonia is similarly straightforward. All you need to do is head to the government website—which actually feels modern and professional, especially compared to US government pages—and fill out the application. It takes about 30 minutes to an hour. All you really need is a headshot, a picture of your passport, links to your social media, and some answers to various questions about your motivation and interest.

When you’re finished, you pay a €120 fee and wait around 30 days to find out the result of your application.

E-Residency is a fascinating program, but it’s merely one example of how streamlined, modern, and innovative Estonia’s bureaucracy is. The features and mechanics which underpin e-Residency extend far beyond it.

Estonia also has a flat tax of ~20% which is administered automatically. Voting is also online.

Cost of living sentences to ponder

The overall cost of living faced by low-income households (post-tax income <$50,000) in the most expensive city—San Jose, CA—is 49% higher than in the median commuting zone, Cleveland, and 99% higher than the most affordable commuting zone—Natchez, MS.

And:

The three commuting zones with the lowest consumption of low income households are San Jose, CA; San Francisco, CA; and San Diego, CA, with consumption levels between 27% and 30% lower than the median commuting zone. At the other extreme of the spectrum, examples of commuting zones with high consumption of low-income households are Huntington, WV; Johnstown, PA; and Elizabeth City, NC, with consumption levels in real terms 22–23% higher than the median commuting zone. The range of consumption levels observed across U.S. communities is quite wide: Low-income families who live in the most affordable commuting zone enjoy a level of market-based consumption measured in real terms that is 74% higher that of families with the same income who live in the least affordable commuting zone.

And:

The estimated coefficient implies that a middle-skill household moving from the median commuting zone (Cleveland) to the commuting zone with the highest price index (San Jose) would experience a 7.7% decline in their standard of living. Moving from the commuting zone with the lowest cost of living index (Natchez) to the commuting zone with the highest index would imply a decline in the standard of living by 12.7%.

As for high school dropouts:

Moving from Natchez to San Jose implies a 26.9% decline in the standard of living.

Here is the NBER working paper by Rebecca Diamond and Enrico Moretti

Model this what is wrong with physicians?

Compared to differences among their male patient counterparts, female patients randomly assigned a female doctor rather than a male doctor are 5.0% more likely to be evaluated as disabled and receive 8.5% more subsequent cash benefits on average. There is no analogous gender-match effect for male patients.

And is it the male or female physicians who are at fault here?  Or is this diagnostic differential somehow optimal?

Here is the full NBER paper by Marika Cabral and Marcus Dillender.

Geoffrey Harcourt has passed away

Here is one notice.  As a teenager I spent a great deal of time with his book Some Controversies in the Cambridge Theory of Capital.  It was difficult, and seemed to contain so many secrets…and it was so elegantly presented with a lovely cover.

Here is Harcourt’s Wikipedia page — many of his children went into academia as well.

For the pointer I thank Alexander Millmow.

What is wrong with physicians?

There is evidence that physicians disproportionately suffer from substance use disorder and mental health problems. It is not clear, however, whether these phenomena are causal. We use data on Dutch medical school applicants to examine the effects of becoming a physician on prescription drug use and the receipt of treatment from a mental health facility. Leveraging variation from lottery outcomes that determine admission into medical schools, we find that becoming a physician increases the use of antidepressants, opioids, anxiolytics, and sedatives, especially for female physicians. Among female applicants towards the bottom of the GPA distribution, becoming a physician increases the likelihood of receiving treatment from a mental health facility.

That is from a new NBER working paper by D. Mark Anderson, Ron Diris, Raymond Montizaan, and Daniel I. Rees.  Is it personality type?  Or the ease of opportunity?  The stress of the job?  Or something else?

Solve for the Swiss suicide equilibrium

A 3D-printed capsule is set to “revolutionize” assisted suicide. It may be legally operated in Switzerland. This is according to an expert opinion obtained by Exit International – the organization that developed the “Sarco” machine – and was first reported by Swiss Info.

In 2020, around 1300 people died in Switzerland through euthanasia. They were cared for by the two largest euthanasia organizations in the country: Exit (no connection to Exit International) and Dignitas. The current common method is the ingestion of liquid sodium pentobarbital. After taking the drug, the person falls asleep within two to five minutes before slipping into a deep coma and dying soon after.

The capsule called “Sarco” offers a different approach to a peaceful death, without the need for prescription substances.

“It is a 3D printed capsule that can be activated from inside by the person who wants to die. The machine can be taken to any place to die. This can be in an idyllic outdoor setting or, for example, in the rooms of an euthanasia organization.” (Philip Nitschke)

The capsule is mounted on a device that floods the interior with nitrogen and very quickly reduces the oxygen content from 21 to one percent.

The person feels a little disoriented and may also feel slightly euphoric before losing consciousness. The whole process takes about 30 seconds. Death occurs from hypoxia and hypocapnia, a lack of oxygen and carbon dioxide, respectively. “There is no panic, no feeling of suffocation,” Nitschke added.

Here is the article, via Neville.  Whether or not you think this particular device has a future, the point is more general.  Technological advances come to many areas, not just the ones that make the cover of Wired magazine.

Do we live in a “post-outrage” world?

From David Siders at Politico:

“I wish we lived in a world where outrage mattered. But I think we live in a post-outrage world, and voters today are affected only by that which directly affects them, which is why the economy, affordability and cost of living is such a major issue for so many people. While a lot of people will express sympathy for that 12-year-old girl in Texas who got raped but no longer can terminate her pregnancy, it’s not what motivates them to go to the polls, sadly.”

And some details:

Interviews with more than a dozen Democratic strategists, pollsters and officials reveal skepticism that the court’s decision will dramatically alter the midterm landscape unless — and perhaps not even then — Roe is completely overturned. Privately, several Democratic strategists have suggested the usefulness of any decision on abortion next year will be limited, and some may advise their clients not to focus on abortion rights at all.

Some of that thinking is colored by Virginia’s gubernatorial race earlier this year. After the Supreme Court allowed a law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy to take effect in Texas, the party was so sure abortion would resonate with voters that Democrat Terry McAuliffe made it a centerpiece of his campaign, saying “it will be a huge motivator for individuals to come out and vote.”

By the time ballots were cast, just 8 percent of voters listed abortion as the most important issue facing Virginia, according to exit polls. Even worse for Democrats, of the people who cared most about the issue, a majority voted for the Republican, Glenn Youngkin.

Cancellations up, outrage down — model that!

Monday assorted links

1. More new views of Glen Weyl.

2. “Workplace premiums associated with teams of professionals have increased, while premiums for previously high-paid blue-collar workers have been cut.

3. A thread against molnupiravir.

4. “We find that a polygenic score capturing individuals’ genetic propensity to acquire education is significantly related to [voter] turnout.

5. Tom Holland to play Fred Astaire.  Can this be a good idea?

6. The recent trend in inflationary expectations.

7. Zvi summarizes Omicron.

Lessons for remote work, from professional chess

During the COVID-19 pandemic, traditional (offline) chess tournaments were prohibited and instead held online. We exploit this unique setting to assess the impact of remote–work policies on the cognitive performance of individuals. Using the artificial intelligence embodied in a powerful chess engine to assess the quality of chess moves and associated errors, we find a statistically and economically significant decrease in performance when an individual competes remotely versus offline in a face-to-face setting. The effect size decreases over time, suggesting an adaptation to the new remote setting.

Here is the Economic Journal paper by Steffen Künn, Christian Seel, and Dainis Zegners.  Via tekl.

What I’ve been reading

1. Jenny Erpenbeck, Aller Tage Abend [The End of Days].  The first quarter of this book I thought it was amazing, a candidate for one of the better novels of the last thirty years.  But as the pages passed, it slipped ever more into various sentimental cliches about the tragedies of German 20th century history.  Frustrating, and I fear the author’s success will make it harder to get back on the right track?

2. T.R. Fehrenbach, Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans.  Almost certainly the very best book on the history of Texas, and also one of the very best books on the USA and the history of the southwest, especially pre-1870.  The writing is dramatic, many segments are vivid, and the book (1980) precedes the cult of political correctness.  If you wish to read a semi-libertarian defense of how the United States obtained Texas (or do I have that backwards?), this is the place to go.  725 pp.  In 1880, Galveston was the largest settlement in Texas.  And here is a good sentence: “Because poor people settled the West, the frontier was always in debt.”

3. Peter Doggett, Growing Up: Sex in the Sixties.  A book more of substance than sensationalism, that said the substance is one of sensation.  An excellent cultural history, and it also drives home the point that things back then really were not so great, matters sexual included.  The focus is on Britain, but the coverage is global.

4. Joe Posnanski, The Baseball 100.  A very long (827 pp.) and thorough look at who might be the best baseball players of all time.  Entertaining, and I have relatively few gripes.  Given that Babe Ruth was a first-rate pitcher, should he really be #2 to Willie Mays at #1?  Oscar Charleston is at #5, but I might have put Satchel Paige there.  I can’t bring myself to put Tris Speaker ahead of Mike Schmidt, and Cy Young doesn’t do as well as you might think.  Pete Rose and Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are not canceled, but are allowed to take their rightful places in the rankings.  Recommended, for those who care.

I won’t have time to do more than browse Naomi Oreskes’s Science on a Mission: How Military Funding Shaped What We Do and Don’t Know About the Ocean.  But it appears to be an entirely serious book about the government funding of science, a drmatically understudied topic area.

Do AI-powered mutual funds outperform the market?

We evaluate the performance of artificial intelligence (AI)-powered mutual funds. We find that these funds do not outperform the market per se. However, a comparison shows that AI-powered funds significantly outperform their human-managed peer funds. We further show that the outperformance of AI funds is attributable to their lower transaction cost, superior stock-picking capability, and reduced behavioral biases.

I am not sure “AI-powered” is entirely well-defined here, but the result is of interest nonetheless.  Here is the paper by Rui Chen and Jinjuan Ren, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.