Results for “wisdom garett jones”
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The wisdom of Garett Jones

On wage subsidies:

True, would likely boost employment rates. But note: if it works, it means current low employment rates are largely supply-side & voluntary.

Here is the link, and here is Garett’s follow-up tweet.  Here are previous installments in the series.

I would note that it is oh so hard for people to keep consistent views on labor markets (e.g., minimum wage vs. wage effects of immigration, or how about minimum wage vs. nominal wage stickiness?).  Those moods and emotions keep on getting in the way…

Words of wisdom from Vitalik Buterin

Both reasoning from behavioral-economic first principles, and my personal experience, people are at their most evil out of fear, not greed. Growth means there is less fear going around.

That is from Vitalik Buterin, reviewing Stubborn Attachments on TwitterAnd this:

I have a different take on “growth is good for harmony” (52-53). Arrow’s theorem doesn’t become more or less true if a conflict is between, say (+5, +1) vs (+1, +5) or (+2, -2) vs (-2, +2). Rather, the reason why the latter is more disharmonious is loss aversion.

And:

Redistributing money to the rich (p88) is risky because the rich are not necessarily aligned with general population. Caring for old people (p91) is valuable not just for the sake of present individuals, but also as a commitment to future old people who are present-day workers.

Here is my earlier Conversation with Vitalik Buterin.  And here is Garett Jones’s tweet storm on the book.

The wisdom of Lee Ohanian

The area has become “the largest region for medical device manufacturing” in the world, says Faulconer, who explains that because of increasingly complex binational supply chains, “sometimes [one product] will cross the border two to three times.” UCLA’s Ohanian pegs the figure far higher: In some cases, he suggests, a product can cross the U.S.-Mexico border an astonishing 14 times before it goes to market. One study suggests that the average good exported from Mexico to the U.S. contains 40-percent American-made components. In the San Diego-Tijuana region, Solar Turbines, Kyocera International and Taylor Guitars are just a few of the companies that have facilities on both sides of the border.

Here is the full article, via the wisdom of Garett Jones.

*Hive Mind*, by Garett Jones

I am very excited to report that next week will see the publication of Hive Mind: How Your Nation’s IQ Matters So Much More Than Your Own, by my colleague Garrett Jones, with Stanford University Press.  This will go down as one of the social science books of the year.

Here is Garett’s opening paragraph:

This isn’t a book about how to raise IQ: it’s a book about the benefits of raising IQ. And a higher IQ helps in ways you might not have realized: on average, people who do better on standardized tests are more patient, are more cooperative, and have better memories. But while dozens of studies by psychologists and economists have established these links, few researchers have connected the dots to ask what this means for entire nations. And since average test scores vary across nations—whether we’re talking about math tests, literacy tests, or IQ tests—an overall rise in national test scores likely means a rise in the number of more patient, more cooperative, and better-informed citizens. This in turn means that higher national test scores will probably matter in ways too big to ignore. And if education researchers and public health officials can find reliable ways to raise national test scores, productivity and prosperity will rise where poverty and disease now flourish.

Here is chapter one, here are Garett’s chapter summaries.  Here is Garett’s home page.  On Twitter, here you will find The Wisdom of Garett Jones.

The Premonition

In The Premonition Michael Lewis brings his cast of heroes together like the assembling of the Avengers. In the role of Captain America is Charity Dean, the CA public health officer who is always under-estimated because she is slight and attractive, until she cracks open the ribcage of a cadaver that the men are afraid to touch. Then there is Carter Mecher, the redneck epidemiologist who has a gift for assembling numbers into coherent patterns. And Richard Hatchett the southern poet who finds himself at the head of The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI), the world’s most important organization during the pandemic; and Joe DiRisi the brilliant, mad scientist picked by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative as the person most likely to cure disease…all of them. As you might expect from Michael Lewis, it’s all terribly well done, albeit formulaic and  sometimes over-the-top, e.g.

Charity’s purpose was clear….she was put on earth to fight battles, and wars, against disease. To save lives and perhaps even an entire country. p. 200-201

But Lewis has a bigger problem than over-the-top writing.

The heroes were defeated. Lewis likes to tell stories of brilliant mavericks like Billy Beane and Michael Burry who go against the grain but eventually, against all odds, emerge victorious. But six hundred thousand people are dead in the United States and whatever victory we have won was ugly and slow. Indeed, Lewis assembles his mighty team but then The Premonition trails off as the team is defeated by bureaucracy, indecision, complacency and malaise before they even have a chance to enter the real battle against the virus. It’s telling that none of Lewis’s heroes are even mentioned in Andy Slavitt’s Preventable (about which I will say more in a future post).

To be fair, Lewis’s heroes are fascinating, brilliant people who did some good. As part of the Kremer team I interacted a bit with Richard Hatchett and CEPI. Hatchett headed CEPI and understood the danger of SARS-COV-II before anyone else and with Bill Gates’s support started funding vaccine production and shoring up supply lines before anyone else was off the starting line. CEPI was magnificent and their story has yet to be told in full measure. Had Lewis’s heroes been in charge I have no doubt that many lives could have been saved but, for the most part, the heroes were sidelined. Why and how that happened is the real question but Lewis’s story-telling skills aren’t the right skills to answer that question.

If there is one central villain in The Premonition, it’s the CDC. Lewis acknowledges that his perspective has changed. In The Fifth Risk, the system (the “deep state” used non-pejoratively if you will) is full of wisdom and power but it’s under threat from Trump. In The Premonition, Trump is an after-thought, at best a trigger or aggravating factor. Long before Trump or the pandemic:

Charity had washed her hands of the CDC. “I banned their officers from my investigations,” she said. The CDC did many things. It published learned papers on health crisis, after the fact. It managed, very carefully, public perception of itself. But when the shooting started, it leapt into the nearest hole, while others took fire. “In the end I was like ‘Fuck you’, said Charity. “I was mad they were such pansies. I was mad that the man behind the curtain ended up being so disappointing.” p. 42

As the pandemic starts the CDC fails repeatedly. At the beginning of the pandemic on January 29 the government had started to repatriate Americans from Wuhan bringing some of them to a National Guard base just outside of Omaha. But shockingly the CDC doesn’t test them for the virus.

Never mind that every single one of the fifty-seven Americans in quarantine wanted to be tested: the CDC forbade it. And [James] Lawler [US Naval Commander and national security coordinator on pandemic response] never understood the real reason for the CDC’s objections…Whatever the reasons, fifty-seven Americans spent fourteen days quarantined in Omaha, then left without having any idea of whether they’d been infected, or might still infect others. “There is no way that fifty-seven people from Wuhan were not shedding virus,” said Lawler. p. 176

Many of the people brought home from China are not even quarantined just told to self-quarantine:

…When local health officers…set out to find these possibly infected Americans, and make sure that they were following orders to quarantine, they discovered that the CDC officials who had met them upon arrival had not bothered to take down their home addresses.

…[Charity] posed a rude question to the senior CDC official moved on the call: How can you keep saying that Americans are at low risk from the virus if you aren’t even testing for the virus. She’d been answered with silence, and then the official move on to the next topic. [p.206-207, italics in original]

And all of this is before we get to the CDC’s famously botched test an error which was amplified by the FDA’s forbidding private labs and state governments to develop their own tests. Charity Dean wanted California to ignore the CDC and FDA and, “blow open testing and allow every microbiology lab to develop its own test.” But Dean is ignored and so by as late as February 19, “Zimbabwe could test but California could not because of the CDC. Zimbabwe!” p. 223. The failure of testing in the early weeks was the original sin of the crisis, the key failure that took a containment strategy ala South Korea and Taiwan off the table.

Lewis’s most sustained analysis comes in a few pages near the end of The Premonition where he argues that the CDC became politicized after it lost credibility due to the 1976 Swine Flu episode. In 1976 a novel influenza strain looked like it might be a repeat of 1918. Encouraged by CDC head David Sencer, President Ford launched a mass vaccination campaign that vaccinated 45 million people. The swine flu, however, petered out and the campaign was widely considered a “debacle” and a “fiasco” that illustrated the danger of ceding control to unelected experts instead of the democratic process. The CDC lost authority and under Reagan the director became a political appointee rather than a career civil servant. Thus, rather than being unprecedented, Trump’s politicization of the CDC had deep roots.

Today the 1976 vaccination campaign looks like a competent response to a real risk that failed to materialize, rather than a failure. So what lessons should we take from this? Lewis doesn’t say but my colleague Garett Jones argues for more independent agencies in his excellent book 10% Less Democracy. The problem with the CDC was that after 1976 it was too responsive to political pressures, i.e. too democratic. What are the alternatives?

The Federal Reserve is governed by a seven-member board each of whom is appointed to a single 14- year term, making it rare for a President to be able to appoint a majority of the board. Moreover, since members cannot be reappointed there is less incentive to curry political favor. The Chairperson is appointed by the President to a four-year term and must also be approved by the Senate. These checks and balances make the Federal Reserve a relatively independent agency with the power to reject democratic pressures for inflationary stimulus. Although independent central banks can be a thorn in the side of politicians who want their aid in juicing the economy as elections approach, the evidence is that independent central banks reduce inflation without reducing economic growth. A multi-member governing board with long and overlapping appointments could also make the CDC more independent from democratic politics which is what you want when a once in 100 year pandemic hits and the organization needs to make unpopular decisions before most people see the danger.

Lewis hasn’t lost his ability to write exhilarating prose about heroic oddballs. Page by page, The Premonition is a good read but the heroes in Lewis’s story were overshadowed by politics, bureaucracy and complacency–systems that Lewis’s doesn’t analyze or perhaps quite understand–and as a result, his hero-centric story ends up unsatisfying as story and unedifying as analysis.

The culture that is Japan

A contentious requirement for Japan-specific trials has delayed the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines in Asia’s largest advanced economy and threatened the Tokyo Olympics.

Small clinical trials that demonstrate the vaccines generate a similar level of antibodies when used in Japan are the main outstanding condition for approval of the jabs from BioNTech/Pfizer and several other companies.

Japan’s demand for proof that safety and efficacy do not differ in the country means that it will not start vaccinations until the end of February — three months after the earliest rollouts and fewer than five months before the delayed Tokyo Olympics are due to start.

Here is the full FT article.  Via the Approve AstraZeneca wisdom that is Garett Jones.

Sauce, goose, gander

A panel appointed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to review taxpayer-subsidized health insurance for retired government workers suggested the city [Chicago] could drop coverage to help erase a financial shortfall…

Phasing out coverage for most retired city workers would leave the bulk of retirees dependent on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Here is more, and for the pointer I thank The Wisdom of Garett Jones.

Steven Pinker on violence

It is an important and thoughtful book, and I can recommend it to all readers of intelligent non-fiction, reviews are here  But I’m not convinced by the main thesis.

Might we run an econometrics test on regime changes?  The 17th century was much more violent than the preceding times, as was the early 19th century, albeit to a lesser extent.  Perhaps the distribution is well-described by “long periods of increasing peace, punctuated by large upward leaps of violence”, as was suggested by Lewis Richardson in his 1960 book on the statistics of violent conflict?  Imagine a warfare correlate to the Minsky Moment.  In the meantime, there will be evidence of various “great moderations,” though each ends with a bang.

Pinker does discuss these ideas in detail in chapter five, but at the end of that section I am not sure why I should embrace his account rather than that of Richardson.  I am reminded of the literature on the peso problem in finance.

Another hypothesis is to see modern violence as lower, especially in the private sphere, because the state is much more powerful.  Could this book have been titled The Nationalization of Violence?  But nationalization does not mean that violence goes away, especially at the most macro levels.  In a variant on my point above, one way of describing the observed trend is “less frequent violent outbursts, but more deadlier outbursts when they come.”  Both greater wealth (weapons are more destructive, and thus used less often, and there is a desire to preserve wealth) and the nationalization of violence point toward that pattern.  That would help explain why the two World Wars, Stalin, Chairman Mao, and the Holocaust, all came not so long ago, despite a (supposed) trend toward greater peacefulness.  Those are hard data points for Pinker to get around, no matter how he tries.

We now have a long period between major violent outbursts, but perhaps the next one will be a doozy.

How would this book sound if it were written in 1944?  Maybe there is a regime break at 1945 or so, with nuclear weapons deserving the credit for a relative extreme of postwar peace.  Pinker’s discussion of the nuclear question starts at p.268, but he underrates the power of nuclear weapons to reach the enemy leaders themselves and thus he does not convince me to dismiss the nuclear issue as central to the observed improvement, throw in Pax Americana if you like.

In one of the most original sections of the book (e.g., p.656), Pinker postulates the greater reach of reason, and the Flynn effect, working together, as moving people toward more peaceful attitudes.  He postulates a kind of moral Flynn effect, whereby our increasing ability to abstract ourselves from particulars, and think scientifically, helps us increasingly identify with the point of view of others, leading to a boost in applied empathy.  On p.661 there is an excellent mention of the wisdom of Garett Jones.  Pinker’s thesis implies the novel conclusion that those skilled on the Ravens test have an especially easy time thinking about ethics in the properly cosmopolitan terms; I toy with such an idea in my own Create Your Own Economy.

What is the alternative hypothesis to this moral Flynn Effect?  Given that the private returns to supporting violence are rare — most of the time — and violence has been nationalized, people will have incentives to invest in greater empathy and to build their self-images around such empathy.  This empathy will be real rather than feigned, but it also will be fragile rather than based in a real shift in cognitive and emotive faculties; see 1990s Mostar and Sarajevo or for that matter Nagasaki or British or Belgian colonialism.

When doing the statistics, one key issue is how to measure violence.  Pinker often favors “per capita” measures, but I am not so sure.  I might prefer a weighted average of per capita and “absolute quantity of violence” measures.  Killing six million Jews in the Holocaust is not, in my view, “half as violent” if global population is twice as high.  Once you toss in the absolute measures with the per capita measures, the long-term trends are not nearly as favorable as Pinker suggests.

Here is John Gray’s (excessively hostile) review of Pinker.  In my view this is very much a book worth reading and thinking about.  And I very much hope Pinker is right.  He has done everything possible to set my doubts to rest, but he has not (yet?) succeeded.  I find it easiest to think that the changes of the last sixty years are real when I ponder nuclear weapons.

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