Monday assorted links

Not Going Postal

Dueling declined as state capacity, measured by post offices, expanded:

Abstract: Scholars have long tried to understand the conditions under which actors choose to use violent versus non-violent means to settle disputes, and many argue that violence is more likely in weakly-institutionalized settings. Yet, there is little evidence showing that increases in state capacity lowers the use of violent informal institutions to resolve disputes. Utilizing a novel dataset of violence — specifically, duels — across American states in the 19th Century, we use the spread of federal post offices as an identification strategy to investigate the importance of state capacity for the incidence of violent dispute resolution. We find that post office density is a strong, consistent, and negative predictor of dueling behavior. Our evidence contributes to a burgeoning literature on the importance of state capacity for development outcomes.

Hat tip: Kevin Lewis.

Counterfactuals about social media

Let’s assume, for purposes of argument, that basically all of the complaints about social media are correct.  Then let’s also imagine, as Matt Yglesias periodically suggests on Twitter, that Facebook is shut down altogether, toss in Twitter and the others as well.

What would happen?

One possibility is that America would move toward a Chinese-style solution, with heavy censorship of the internet.  Still, I think both public opinion and the First Amendment make that outcome unlikely.  Furthermore, while the Chinese solution has been relatively practicable (as opposed to desirable) to date, there is no guarantee that will continue to be the case.

Alternatively, without tight censorship substitutes for Facebook and Instagram and YouTube and Twitter will arise, possibly based in other countries if regulation so dictates.  They might be less ad-funded, less profitable, and less easy to use, but the basic technologies for “putting every single idea out there” are already out of the box.  Furthermore, it won’t be that hard to find and circulate those ideas, including the very bad ones, through a mix of aggregation and search and focused spread and redistribution.

The first question is whether anyone actually thinks that such a world of less heavily capitalized communications entities would lead to greater responsibility.  The first cut answer, drawing on basic economics, would seem to be no.

The broader point is the relative popularities of various ideas and sources still will be upended, just as the printing press and radio also had some fairly radical (and not entirely positive) effects in their times.  In essence, various intellectual and ideological debates will need to be re-litigated and re-fought over the internet, just as they were redone over television and radio, or earlier through papyrus and also clay tablets, of course with somewhat different results each time.

Many people hate that reality, but a reality it is.  Let’s even say you are right to hate that reality (NB: not exactly my view).

Should you:

a) Go after the companies that make the clay tablets?

b) Go after the clay tablets and try to smash them?

c) Equip yourself to try to win the new intellectual and ideological battles for hearts and minds?

And what should we infer about the spiritual vigor of a society that might so heavily promote options a) and b)?

Sentences to ponder

In fact, recognising a face is only the first step of biometric surveillance, he suggests. “It’s really like an entry-level term to much broader, deeper analysis of people’s biometrics. There’s jaw recognition — the width of your jaw can be used to infer success as CEO, for example. Companies such as Boston-based Affectiva are doing research that analyses faces in real time, to determine from a webcam or in-store camera if someone is going to buy something in your store.”

Other analyses, he adds, can be used to determine people’s tiredness, skin quality and heart rate, or even to lip-read what they are saying. “Face recognition is a very deceiving term, technically, because there’s no limit,” he concludes. “It ends ultimately only with your DNA.”

That is from Madhumita Murgia at the FT.

Sunday assorted links

Tooth extraction markets in everything

Dozens of medical professionals in seven states were charged Wednesday with participating in the illegal prescribing of more than 32 million pain pills, including doctors who prosecutors said traded sex for prescriptions and a dentist who unnecessarily pulled teeth from patients to justify giving them opioids…

Another Alabama doctor allegedly prescribed opioids in high doses and charged a “concierge fee” of $600 per year to be one of his patients.

By Sari Horwitz and Scott Higham, there is more of interest at the link.  For the pointer I thank Harrison Brown.

Our three new hires at George Mason economics

Nataliya Naumenko

Northwestern Ph.D, Brown post doc, Joel Mokyr student.  Here is her job market paper:

Job Market Paper

The Political Economy of Famine: the Ukrainian Famine of 1933 Download Job Market Paper (pdf)

Abstract: The famine of 1932–1933 in Ukraine killed as many as 2.6 million people out of a population of approximately 30 million. Three main explanations have been offered: negative weather shock, poor economic policies, and genocide. This paper uses variation in exposure to poor government policies and in ethnic composition within Ukraine to study the impact of policies on mortality, and the relationship between ethnic composition and mortality. It documents that (1) the data do not support the negative weather shock explanation: 1931 and 1932 weather predicts harvest roughly equal to the 1925 — 1929 average; (2) bad government policies (collectivization and the lack of favored industries) significantly increased mortality; (3) collectivization increased mortality due to drop in production on collective farms and not due to overextraction from collectives (although the evidence is indirect); (4) back-of-the-envelope calculations show that collectivization explains at least 31\% of excess deaths; (5) ethnic Ukrainians seem more likely to die, even after controlling for exposure to poor Soviet economic policies; (6) Ukrainians were more exposed to policies that later led to mortality (collectivization and the lack of favored industries); (7) enforcement of government policies did not vary with ethnic composition (e.g., there is no evidence that collectivization was enforced more harshly on Ukrainians). These results provide several important takeaways. Most importantly, the evidence is consistent with both sides of the debate (economic policies vs genocide). (1) backs those arguing that the famine was man-made. (2) — (4) support those who argue that mortality was due to bad policy. (5) is consistent with those who argue that ethnic Ukrainians were targeted. For (6) and (7) to support genocide, it has to be the case that Stalin had the foresight that his policies would fail and lead to famine mortality years after they were introduced (and therefore disproportionately exposed Ukrainians to them).

Jonathan Schulz

Cultural economics and economic history, St. Gallen Ph.D, Harvard post doc, co-author with Joe Henrich.

Job market paper, “Catholic Church, Kin Networks, and Institutional Development“:

Political institutions vary widely around the world, yet the origin of this variation is not well understood. This study tests the hypothesis that the Catholic Church’s medieval marriage policies dissolved extended kin networks and thereby fostered inclusive institutions. In a difference-in-difference setting, I demonstrate that exposure to the Church predicts the formation of inclusive, self-governed commune cities before the year 1500CE. Moreover, within medieval Christian Europe, stricter regional and temporal cousin marriage prohibitions are likewise positively associated with communes. Strengthening this finding, I show that longer Church exposure predicts lower cousin marriage rates; in turn, lower cousin marriage rates predict higher civicness and more inclusive institutions today. These associations hold at the regional, ethnicity and country level. Twentieth-century cousin marriage rates explain more than 50 percent of variation in democracy across countries today.

Jonathan P. Beauchamp

Harvard Ph.D, assistant professor of economics at University of Toronto, he works in the new field genonomics and has co-authored with David Cesarini.  Here is his presentation on GWAS of risk tolerance:

Here is his paper (with co-authors) “Genome-wide association analyses of risk tolerance and risky behaviors in over one million individuals identify hundreds of loci and shared genetic influences.”

I am very much looking forward to their arrival, they all seem like great colleagues, and I am honored to have played a role on the recruiting committee.

Families and social networks don’t always help stroke victims

A recent study in Nature Communications shows that when stroke patients are surrounded by close connections like their immediate family, they are less likely to get to the hospital in time for treatment, compared to patients with looser social connections.

Amar Dhand is a neurologist at Harvard Medical School with a PhD in sociology from Oxford who studies the relationship between social connections and health. His team surveyed 175 stroke patients in Boston and St. Louis, and mapped their social networks against the time it took them to arrive at the hospital. The 67 patients who took more than six hours to arrive had both smaller and tighter-knit social networks than the 108 who arrived in under six hours…

“This is the biggest problem in stroke therapy today,” Dhand says. “The delay that is caused by patients and the caregivers. The social context is the largest part of the delay, hands down, in stroke patients arriving in hospital in time.” There’s a predictable sequence of events for stroke patients in close networks, he notes. Initially, a patient may delay telling their family about their symptoms, not wanting them to worry.  “Secondly, they [the family] over-negotiate the symptoms, and perhaps even argue about them,” Dhand says. “Then they all validate each others opinion to watch and wait.”

He calls it an”echo chamber,” where family members, hoping for the best, minimize the gravity of the situation and conflate it with previous, less severe illnesses.

In contrast, when patients with only loose social networks have a stroke, there isn’t as much dithering. Patients who suffer strokes in a public place may be sent to the emergency room out of an abundance of caution by employees of the mall, store, or restaurant where they are afflicted. In some cases, an ambulance may be called by someone who doesn’t want the responsibility of caring for the sick person.

Here is the full article.

Saturday assorted links

Compensating differentials

And even though [David] Crosby underwent a liver transplant in 1994, all four are active today. Does this mean we’ll see them together onstage again? [Graham] Nash stated in an interview not long ago that the band was offered $100 million to go on tour. But that’s not going to happen, he said, for one simple reason: “We don’t like each other.”

That is from David Kirby’s review of the other CSNY biography to have come out this month, also a good book.

*An Economist Walks into a Brothel*

That is the new Allison Schraeger book, the subtitle is And Other Unexpected Places to Understand Risk, and here is one excerpt:

In many ways, the brothel is like any other workplace.  There are weekly staff meetings (in a departure from the tradition at most companies, the women often wear outlandish hats and drink tea), access to financial advisers, performance bonuses, and even corporate housing…

But where Hof [the owner-manager] provided value was by reducing risk for both buyers and sellers of sex.

The top-earning woman at that brothel pulls in about $600,000 a year, and about half of that goes to Hof.  And to audition for the brothel, women have to invest about $1500 in upfront costs (travel, clothing), with no guarantee of a job at the end of the process.

Here is an NPR interview with Allison.

Kevin Williamson reviews *Big Business*

Here is part of the review:

Professor Cowen has a reputation as a contrarian, but that is not exactly right. He has a great talent for revealing truths that are right under our noses but oddly overlooked — or willfully obscured. His latest book, Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero, is an excellent, easily digestible exercise in exactly that. Why is it, he asks, that Big Business is not more widely admired and appreciated? Large-scale corporate enterprises provide a great many jobs; relative to smaller firms, they typically pay their workers more and treat them better, invest more in research and development, are more productive and more innovative, and conduct their business at least as ethically. He knocks down a series of myths about excessive executive compensation, “quarterly capitalism” obsessed with short-term profits, monopolistic temptations, and the purportedly outsize role of finance in our economy.

On the last of those, Professor Cowen offers one of his extraordinarily useful, obvious-if-you-think-about-it insights: The argument that finance has grown too large as a share of U.S. economic activity is based in part on the fact that in the 1960s finance accounted for about 4 percent of GDP whereas it recently has been above 8 percent. That’s the wrong comparison, he argues: Finance is engaged in the business of managing wealth, not in the business of managing current income flows exclusively; it makes more sense, then, to examine the share of assets that the financial sector controls, which, as is turns out, has not changed very much over the years, floating around 2 percent. While other social critics have written great volumes about “financialization” — where it comes from, what it means, whether it is desirable — Professor Cowen first stops to ask whether the thing that everybody knows is happening is in fact happening.

There is much more at the link.

Friday assorted links