*Just Hierarchy: Why Social Hierarchies Matter in China and the Rest of the World*

That is the new book by Daniel A. Bell and Wang Pei.  It is perhaps not so novel to students of Jean Bodin and medieval political thought, or say Chinese history, but still the book crystallizes a moment and I consider its publication a matter of note.  Here is one short bit:

But which hierarchical relations are justified and why?  In our view, it depends on the nature of the social relations and the social context.  As a method, we are inspired by Michael Walzer’s call for a pluralistic approach to justice.  There is no one principle of justice appropriate for all times and places.  Our main argument is that different hierarchical principles ought to govern different kinds of social relations.  What justifies hierarchy among intimates is different from what justifies hierarchy among citizens; what justifies hierarchy among citizens is different from what justifies hierarchy among countries; what justifies hierarchy among countries is different from what justifies hierarchies between humand and animals, and…The sum total of our argument is that morally justified hierarchies can and should govern different spheres of our social lives…

The discussion of the Kama Sutra, and its notions of hierarchy, was interesting too.

Saturday assorted links

Patients as Consumers in the Market for Medicine: Bedside Manner > Survival Probability

Young and Chen, 2020: Consumer-driven health care is often heralded as a new quality paradigm in medicine. However, patients-as-consumers face difficulties in judging the quality of their medical treatment. With a sample of 3,000 U.S. hospitals, we find that neither medical quality nor patient survival rates have much impact on patient satisfaction with their hospital. In contrast, patients are very sensitive to the “room and board” aspects of care that are highly visible. Quiet rooms have a larger impact on patient satisfaction than medical quality, and communication with nurses affects satisfaction far more than the hospital-level risk of dying. Hospitality experiences create a halo effect of patient goodwill, while medical excellence and patient safety do not. Moreover, when hospitals face greater competition from other hospitals, patient satisfaction is higher but medical quality is lower. Consumer-driven health care creates pressures for hospitals to be more like hotels. These findings lend broader insight into unintended consequences of marketization.

It doesn’t surprise me that consumers respond much more to nice nurses than to survival probabilities. Nice nurses are observable by patients but survival probabilities can only be estimated from sophisticated statistical models. I do wish that patients paid more attention to the outputs of sophisticated statistical models when choosing doctors and hospitals, as I think this would improve quality, but mostly they don’t. As a result, competition increases patient satisfaction but less clearly increases medical quality and medical excellence. The authors, in fact, argue that competition reduces medical quality but that part of their paper is weaker than the former and the bulk of the economic literature indicates that hospital competition also increases quality albeit not strongly and with some mixed results.

Hat tip: Kevin Lewis.

An argument for weaker copyright in books

From Barbara Biasi and Petra Moser:

Copyrights, which establish intellectual property in music, science,and other creative goods, are intended to encourage creativity. Yet, copyrights also raise the cost of accessing existing work – potentially discouraging future innovation.This paper uses an exogenous shift towards weak copyrights(and low access costs) during WWII to examine the potentially adverse effects of copyrights on science. Using two alternative identification strategies, we show that weaker copyrights encouraged the creation of follow-on science, measured by citations.This change is driven by a reduction in access costs, allowing scientists at less affluent institutions to use existing knowledge in new follow-on research.

The paper title is “Effects of Copyrights on Science: Evidence from the WWII Book Republication Program.”

Claims about white people

Black women for instance, present a consistent pattern of improvement in happiness across decades, while White women display a persistent pattern of decline. In contrast, Black men experienced a discernable pattern of improvement in happiness between the 1970s and 1990s, followed by a leveling off in the early-2000s. White men experienced moderate gains in happiness between the 1970s and 1990s, but after the Great Recession/Obama Era, White male happiness followed a pattern of unprecedented decline, with the “happiness advantage” they once enjoyed (as a group) over Black men and women largely vanishing.

That is by Jason L. Cummings, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

Does digital socialism have a future?

No, not a good future, according to Jesús Fernández-Villaverde:

Can artificial intelligence, in particular, machine learning algorithms, replace the idea of simple rules, such as first possession and voluntary exchange in free markets, as a foundation for public policy? This paper argues that the preponderance of the evidence sides with the interpretation that while artificial intelligence will help public policy along with several important aspects, simple rules will remain the fundamental guideline for the design of institutions and legal environments. “Digital socialism” might be a hipster thing to talk about in Williamsburg or Shoreditch, but is as much of a chimera as “analog socialism.”

The paper is an excellent response to a growing set of claims, I would add further material on the work of Michael Polanyi and the importance of inarticulable knowledge.

Very good sentences

Nearly all of the biggest challenges in America are, at some level, a housing problem. Rising home costs are a major driver of segregation, inequality, and racial and generational wealth gaps. You can’t talk about education or the shrinking middle class without talking about how much it costs to live near good schools and high-paying jobs. Transportation accounts for about a third of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions, so there’s no serious plan for climate change that doesn’t begin with a conversation about how to alter the urban landscape so that people can live closer to work.

Those are from Conor Daugherty in the NYT, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.

A central bank digital currency is not a good idea, redux

The introduction of a central bank digital currency (CBDC) allows the central bank to engage in large-scale intermediation by competing with private financial intermediaries for deposits. Yet, since a central bank is not an investment expert, it cannot invest in long-term projects itself, but relies on investment banks to do so. We derive an equivalence result that shows that absent a banking panic, the set of allocations achieved with private financial intermediation will also be achieved with a CBDC. During a panic, however, we show that the rigidity of the central bank’s contract with the investment banks has the capacity to deter runs. Thus, the central bank is more stable than the commercial banking sector. Depositors internalize this feature ex-ante, and the central bank arises as a deposit monopolist, attracting all deposits away from the commercial banking sector. This monopoly might endangered maturity transformation.

Here is the NBER working paper by Jesús Fernández-Villaverde, Daniel Sanches, Linda Schilling, and Harald Uhlig.  Here is my earlier Bloomberg column with similar themes.

The missionary roots of liberal democracy

I had not known of this important piece.  From 2012, by Robert D. Woodberry, at the National University of Singapore:

This article demonstrates historically and statistically that conversionary Protestants (CPs) heavily influenced the rise and spread of stable democracy around the world. It argues that CPs were a crucial catalyst initiating the development and spread of religious liberty, mass education, mass printing, newspapers, voluntary organizations, and colonial reforms, thereby creating the conditions that made stable democracy more likely. Statistically, the historic prevalence of Protestant missionaries explains about half the variation in democracy in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania and removes the impact of most variables that dominate current statistical research about democracy. The association between Protestant missions and democracy is consistent in different continents and subsamples, and it is robust to more than 50 controls and to instrumental variable analyses.

For the pointer I thank Ann Swidler.

Willingness to be Paid: Who Trains for Tech Jobs?

Here is a new paper from Joy Buchanan, Emergent Ventures winner:

Having a larger high-skill workforce is good for economic productivity, so it is useful to understand how workers self-select into high-paying technology jobs. This study examines how workers on the margin decide whether to pursue tech jobs, including a precise control for the opportunity cost of time. The most important determinant of the reservation wage for college students to do computer programming is whether they enjoy it or not. Another subjective influence, whether subjects like math or not, predicts self-confidence. Most students, including females and minorities, are willing to learn a new computer programming language, for a sufficiently high wage. Neither randomly assigned encouragement nor extra information on the programming task increases willingness to participate or increases confidence.

I often say that economics is too often solely the study of incentives, whereas real world problems end up solved because entrepreneurs opt for a potent mix of selection and incentives.  Selection is often the more important part of that brew.  Get people doing what they like, and you cannot boil a stone into a turnip.  It is also noteworthy from the paper that a lot of people really do not seem to like programming.

In praise of art books

Running out of things to read?  Do you ever have the sneaky feeling that books might be overrated?  Well, for some variation at the margin try reading art books.  That’s right, books about art.  Not “how to draw,” but books about the content and history of art.  Some of them you might call art history, but that term makes me a little nervous.  Just go into a good art museum, and look at what they are stocking in their bookstore.  Many of them will be picture books, rather than art history in the narrower, more scholarly sense of that word.

Art books offer the following advantages:

1. They are among the best ways to learn history, politics, and yes science too (advances in art often followed advances in science and technology).  Even economic history.  Since the main focus is the art, they will give you “straight talk” about the historical period in question, rather than trying to organize the narrative around some vague novelty that only the peer reviewers care about.

2. They are often very pretty to look at.  You also feel you can read them in small bites, or you can read only a single chapter or section.  The compulsion to finish is relatively weak, a good thing.  You can feel you have consumed them without reading them at all, a true liberation, which in turns means you will read them as you wish to.

3. They have passed through different filters than most other books, precisely because they are often “sold into the market” on the basis of their visuals, or copyright permissions, or connection with a museum exhibit, or whatever.  Thus they introduce variation into your reading life, compared to say traditional academic tomes or “trade books,” which increasingly are about gender, race, and DT in an ever-more homogenized fashion.

4. They are among the best ways of learning about the sociology of creativity and also “the small group theory” of history.

5. These books tend not to be politically contentious, or if they are it is in a superficial way that is easily brushed off.  (Note there is a whole subgenre of art books, from theory-laden, left-wing presses, with weird covers, displayed in small, funky Manhattan or Brooklyn bookstores where you can’t believe they can make the rent, where politics is all they are about.  Avoid those.)

6. A bookstore of art books is almost always excellent, no matter how small.  It’s not about comprehensiveness, rather you can always find numerous books there of interest.

7. Major reviewing outlets either do not cover too many art books, or they review them poorly and inaccurately.  That suggests your “marginal best book” in the art books category is really quite good, because you didn’t have an easy means to discover it.

8. You might even wish to learn about art.

9. This whole genre is not about assembling a reading list of “the best art books.”  Go to a good public library, or museum bookstore, and start grabbing titles.  The best museum bookstore I know of is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

10. It is also a very good introduction to the histories and cultures of locations such as China and India, where “straight up” political histories numb you with a succession of names, periods, and dynasties, only barely embedded in contexts that make any sense to you.

Education sentences to ponder

The unemployment rate for young college graduates exceeds that of the general population, and about 41 percent of recent college graduates — and 33.8 percent of all college graduates — are underemployed in that they are working in jobs that don’t require a college degree, according to new data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Here is more from Elizabeth Redden.  The sad thing is, this is evidence of meritocracy, not a stinking economy.

Wednesday assorted links