Results for “self-recommending”
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A new economics blog (self-recommending)

As reported from Kids Prefer Cheese:

Me and Mrs. Angus have decided to get bloggy about development, growth & macro over at a new site, Cherokee Gothic. You can read about why it’s called that here. While it will mostly be us, we hope to enlist other OU faculty to contribute to the site as well.

I’ll still be blogging here with Mungo at KPC, bringing the crazy like nobody’s business, but please check us out, follow us, put us in your blogroll, and just generally show us some mad blogosphere love.

What I’ve been reading

1. Sarah Gilbert and Catherine Green, The Vaxxers: The Inside Story of the Oxford AstraZeneca Vaccine and the Race Against the Virus.  Self-recommending (they were leaders on the team), most of all it is striking how much time they spend covering and complaining about problems in the science funding network.  Let’s improve that.  In any case I enjoyed the book.

2. Harald Jähner, Aftermath: Life in the Fallout of the Third Reich, 1945-55.  A quite interesting book which considers how German women were disappointed in German men, how eastern German women dealt with Soviet soldier rape, how the Soviets resumed classical orchestral concerts within weeks (for their own pleasure), currency conversion, and more: “But Beate Uhse fell foul of the law for the first time, not because of violation of the moral code of corrupting the young, but for breach of price regluations.”

3. Jeevan Vasagar, Lion City: Singapore and the Invention of Modern Asia.  Selective rather than comprehensive, but entertaining and balanced and insightful.  Those interested in Singapore should read this book, and even Singapore experts will learn some new nuggets.  The author was the FT correspondent in Singapore from 2015 to 2017.

4. Mathilde Fasting and Øystein Sørensen, The Norwegian Exception: Norway’s Liberal Democracy Since 1814.  “This book started as an idea to explain Norwegian society to a broader public.”  I am not sure they quite succeed, but still it is the best single Norway book I know.  I hadn’t known for instance that Norway has two different official written languages.  In general there should be more books trying to explain highly successful countries!  This is a move in the right direction, and I am happy to see that the authors do not try to deny or run away from Norway’s first-rate performance.

5. James Hawes, The Shortest History of England.  One can pick nits with books such as these, but I found this one useful.  It stresses the role of the French in English history, and also the ongoing clash between the South and the North over who will rule whom.

There is also Robert Wuthnow’s Why Religion is Good for American Democracy (true), and Michael Taylor’s The Interest: How the British Establishment Resisted the Abolition of Slavery, which dashed my hopes when I learnt that Alexander McDonnell, the Belfast-born 19th century chess player who famously sparred with Louis de la Bourdonnais, also was a strongly pro-slavery and pro-imperialism economist in his time.

Gordon S. Wood’s *Power and Liberty*

The subtitle is Constitutionalism in the American Revolution, and of course self-recommending.  Here is one excerpt:

The breadth and depth of popular interest in the Constitution in 1787-1788 was remarkable.  The towns of Massachusetts, for example, elected 370 delegates to the state’s ratifying convention, of whom 364 attended.  Most were eager to meet and discuss the Constitution.  It took six days for the delegates from Bath, Maine (then part of Massachusetts), to make their way south across rivers and through snow to Boston.  The people of Massachusetts believed they were involved, as the little town of Oakham told its delegates, in deciding an issue of “the greatest importance that ever came before any Class of Men on this Earth.”

And this:

Many expected the electoral college to work as a nominating body in which no one normally would get a majority of electoral votes; therefore, most elections would take place in the House of Representatives among the top five candidates, with each state’s congressional delegation voting as a unit.

You can buy it here.

What we learned doing Fast Grants

Here is my new piece with Patrick Collison and Patrick Hsu.  The title says it all, here is one excerpt:

…we recently ran a survey of Fast Grants recipients, asking how much their Fast Grant accelerated their work. 32% said that Fast Grants accelerated their work by “a few months”, which is roughly what we were hoping for at the outset given that the disease was killing thousands of Americans every single day.

In addition to that, however, 64% of respondents told us that the work in question wouldn’t have happened without receiving a Fast Grant.

For example, SalivaDirect, the highly successful spit test from Yale University, was not able to get timely funding from its own School of Public Health, even though Yale has an endowment of over $30 billion. Fast Grants also made numerous grants to UC Berkeley researchers, and the UC Berkeley press office itself reported in May 2020: “One notably absent funder, however, is the federal government. While federal agencies have announced that researchers can apply to repurpose existing funds toward Covid-19 research and have promised new emergency funds to projects focused on the pandemic, disbursement has been painfully slow. …Despite many UC Berkeley proposals submitted to the National Institutes of Health since the pandemic began, none have been granted.” [Emphasis ours.]


57% of respondents told us that they spend more than one quarter of their time on grant applications. This seems crazy. We spend enormous effort training scientists who are then forced to spend a significant fraction of their time seeking alms instead of focusing on the research they’ve been hired to pursue.

The adverse consequences of our funding apparatus appear to be more insidious than the mere imposition of bureaucratic overhead, however.

In our survey of the scientists who received Fast Grants, 78% said that they would change their research program “a lot” if their existing funding could be spent in an unconstrained fashion. We find this number to be far too high: the current grant funding apparatus does not allow some of the best scientists in the world to pursue the research agendas that they themselves think are best.


Some of the other Fast Grants investments were speculative, and may (or may not) pay dividends in the future, or for the next pandemic. Examples include:

  • Work on a possible pan-coronavirus vaccine at Caltech.
  • Work on a possible pan-enterovirus (another class of RNA virus) drug at Stanford University that has now raised subsequent funding.
  • Multiple grants going to different labs working on CRISPR-based COVID-19 at-home testing. One example is smartphone-based COVID-19 detection, being worked on at UC Berkeley and Gladstone Institutes.


*Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment*

That is the new and very interesting book by Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, and Cass R. Sunstein.  Think of “noise” as the new major problem rather than bias.  Here is one excerpt:

…we presented our findings to the senior managers of an asset management firm, prompting them to run their own exploratory noise audit.  they asked forty-two experienced investors in the firm to estimate the fair value of a stock (the price at which investors would be indifferent to buying or selling).  The investors based their analysis on a one-page description of the business; the data included ismplified profits and loss, balance sheet, and cash flow statements for the past three years and projections for the next two.  median noise, measured in the same way as in the insurance company, was 41%.  Such large differences among investors in the same firm, using the same valuation methods, cannot be good news.

I will be covering this book more soon, you can pre-order it here.  And here Tim Harford does FT lunch with Kahneman, self-recommending.

My excellent Conversation with John Cochrane

Here is the audio, transcript, and video.  So many good parts it is hard to excerpt, here is part of the summary:

John joined Tyler to apply that habit of mind to a number of puzzles, including why real interest rates don’t equalize across countries, what explains why high trading volumes and active management persist in finance, how the pandemic has affected his opinion of habit formation theories, his fiscal theory of price level and inflation, the danger of a US sovereign debt crisis, why he thinks Bitcoin will eventually die, his idea for health-status insurance, becoming a national gliding champion, how a Renaissance historian for a father and a book translator for a mother shaped him intellectually, what’s causing the leftward drift in economics, the need to increase competition among universities, how he became libertarian, the benefits of blogging, and more.

Here is one bit from John:

COCHRANE: You ask two questions here. One is active management, and the other is trading. I’d like to distinguish them. It’s a puzzle in the Chicago free market sense.

Let me ask your question even more pointedly. If you believe in efficient markets, and you believe in competition, and things work out right, we’ve scientifically proven since the 1960s, that high-fee active managers don’t earn any more than a proverbial monkey throwing darts in a well-managed slow index. So why do people keep paying for high-fee active management?

Chicago free market — we’re not supposed to say, “Oh, people are dumb for 40 years — 50 years now,” [laughs] but there’s a lot of it. It’s one of those things. Active management is slowly falling away. The move towards passive index investment is getting stronger and stronger.

There’s a strong new literature, which I’ll point to. My colleague here, Jonathan Berk, has written some good articles on it. This is the puzzle of efficient markets. If everybody indexed, markets couldn’t be efficient because no one’s out there getting the information that makes markets efficient. Markets have to be a little inefficient, and somebody has to do the trading.

Your second question is about trading. Why is there this immense volume of trading? When was the last time you bought or sold a stock? You don’t do it every 20 milliseconds, do you? [laughs]

I’ll highlight this. If I get my list of the 10 great unsolved puzzles that I hope our grandchildren will have figured out, why does getting the information into asset prices require that the stock be turned over a hundred times? That’s clearly what’s going on. There’s this vast amount of trading, which is based on information or opinion and so forth. I hate to discount it at all just as human folly, but that’s clearly what’s going on, but we don’t have a good model.


Emmott Interviews Tabarrok for the Browser

Bill Emmott, former editor-in-chief of The Economist and now co-director of the Global Commission for Post-Pandemic Policy, talks to Alex Tabarrok, Professor of Economics at George Mason University and co-author of the blog Marginal Revolution, on lessons learned from the pandemic so far, and what lies ahead.

Self-recommending. I’d say it’s a very good interview but there was no question that I was outclassed by Bill Emmott’s zoom background, live from Dublin. Many thanks to the ever-excellent The Browser for hosting.