Month: January 2004
Jonathan Rauch says no. He argues that allowing HIV-positive individuals to apply for residence will bring those individuals into mainstream medical institutions. The alternative may bring undocumented HIV-positive individuals who never receive good medical care or perhaps never even discover their HIV status, infecting others in the process. Rauch writes:
The ban on aliens with HIV was first imposed administratively, by the Public Health Service, in 1987, when fear of AIDS was at its peak and the disease was effectively untreatable. As therapies became available, public health authorities soon came to believe that the policy merely drove the disease underground and thus was ineffective, if not counterproductive. The first Bush administration and then the Clinton administration tried to revoke it. To no avail: In 1993, Congress wrote the HIV ban into law. No other disease faces such a statutory ban.
Even in 1993, the ban made little sense. America was the world’s epicenter of AIDS, exporting rather than importing the disease, and so aliens were far more likely to get HIV in America than to bring it in. Anyway, the policy never required an HIV test for entry; only when an alien seeks permanent-resident status, usually after having already been in the country for years, is the blood test routinely required. So the policy, as put into practice, is about kicking people out, not keeping them out.
Congress was worried about the costs of welfare and publicly funded care for immigrants with AIDS. A valid concern, but one addressed by the underlying immigration law, which bars aliens deemed likely to become a “public charge,” whatever their disease. Today, diabetics and cancer patients can visit and live in the United States on showing they have insurance or resources to keep themselves off the welfare rolls; only people with HIV are barred, whether they are sick or not. This is discrimination, pure and simple.
The numbers suggest that much is at stake: for instance about 1 in 12 Africans is HIV-positive, by some estimates. Singapore has faced related issues with foreign prostitutes.
Rauch’s proposal, obviously is not a political winner, even though the Bush administration has been relatively sympathetic on the AIDS issue. I am interested in considering the deportation question more generally. Should we, for instance, deport SARS carriers? SARS is highly contagious to larger groups in a shorter period of time. Unlike HIV-positive status, you can’t (it seems) just walk around with SARS for years. You might argue that if we deport SARS carriers, undocumented immigrants with SARS will be reluctant to report to hospitals. A good point, but I suspect that many of them rather quickly cannot continue on their own without dying. On the other hand, say you have an undocumented SARS patient on your hands. It is crazy to put them on a plane (we cannot over time afford many quarantined flights), best to leave them in a hospital. Nor does it gain you much to deport them once they are better.
So in looking for standards for deportable diseases, we might focus on rapidity of contagiousness, and ability to deport without infecting others in the process. Whether an individual can serve as a “silent carrier” can cut either way. On one hand, silent carriers can infect others for a longer period of time, which suggests a reason to boot them out (though of course they must go somewhere). On the other hand, it is the silent carriers that you want to report to the medical establishment. There is also a question of stock vs. flow. If the potential future flow of HIV-positives is high, that argues for deportation, as an incentive to keep others away. But if the stock is high relative to the flow, that argues for greater tolerance.
Sometimes it puts the world at risk to deport individuals before their treatment is complete, read this story on tuberculosis. And of course some of the deported will simply die without the medical care of the wealthier nation.
John Gottman has spent decades studying how married couples interact. His most striking finding is the tendency of couples at risk of divorce to have markedly different interaction styles. His recent book, The Mathematics of Marriage, summarizes his observations of married couples and presents a parsimonious model of marriage (see here for Slate’s review). The highlight of the research is that couples where the dominant mode of interaction includes criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling are very, very likely to divorce. Successful marriages involve a great deal of mending and reworking of the relationship. The mathematics links some theories about emotions and interaction to this observed pattern.
What I find interesting is the implication for thinking about politics. Let’s assume that political order is a sort of “marriage” between state and citizen. At least from the perspective of the citizen, it’s a relationship that can be broken, if warranted. This is a premise of many normative theories of revolution – the citizens have a right to a new government if they feel the written and unwritten rules have been violated. Unfortunately, what we know about exactly how this happens – moving to abandon the social contract – is sketchy at best, although political scientists and sociologists have a hunch that it involves some combination of repression of the population and a de-legitimizing of the government, which itself might have multiple causes.
Gottman’s approach to studying relationships offers a useful way to think about these issues. Gottman’s point is that there may be varying sources of the emotions that destroy marriages, but the road to divorce usually starts in the same place – once spouses have learned certain interaction strategies, they create hard to change feedback loops. Similarly, governments and populations that learn certain strategies for interacting with each other probably set up hard to break cycles leading to long term stability or perpetual crisis. The nice thing about Gottman’s analysis of marriage is that the math predicts stability or decline, and not much in between – a non-trivial prediction. The same prediction for states is that states tend to be on a tough to change road to constant crisis (like in Africa and the Middle East) or stability (like in the US). Switches from one path to the other should be infrequent and difficult, which seems to describe the world pretty well.
The key point that I think Brad and Tyler both miss is that in the late 19th century a lot of the capital was flowing within the structure of the British Empire. Whatever its faults (and there were many), the Empire did provide investors with the rational expectation that their property would not be expropriated. More broadly, the capital flows of the 19th century were accompanied by flows of intellectual capital – in the form of the rule of law and similar institutions. Japan and the East Asian tigers show that it is possible for a country to adopt these institutions without the imposition of Empire but it is not easy.
The ever-interesting Brad DeLong is on a real roll lately. Read his post on current economic trends. Here is my favorite part:
…more important than the short-run cycles are the long-run trends. Labor productivity growth in the United States rose from 1.2% per year from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s to 2.3% per year in the late 1990s to 4.2% per year–so far–in the 2000s. How much of that second jump-up in productivity growth will be sustained? We do not know, but it is safe to bet that some of it will. (Me, I don’t believe those numbers: I prefer to look at the income rather than the product side of the National Income and Product Accounts, and say that the three economy-wide productivity numbers are 1.2%, 3.1%, and 3.2% respectively, with the difference between the income and product side blamed on an erratic “statistical discrepancy.”) When will the rapid productivity growth that we have seen in the United States and ascribed to information technology spread to the rest of the rich countries? We do not know, but we do know that one of these years it will make itself visible. How long will it take world trade in information-services like form-processing, accounting, and customer service to truly boom as a result of the internet and the fiber-optic cable in the same way that the iron-hulled ocean-going steamship and the submarine telegraph made world trade in staple goods–not just luxuries and preciosities–boom in the late nineteenth century? Once again we do not know, but once again we do know that one of these years it will make itself visible.
It is time for governments, firms, investors, workers, and parents worldwide to begin betting on the long-run trends that have become visible over the past decade. Such bets probably won’t pay off in the next year, or two, or three. But they surely will start to pay off sometime in the next ten.
I will direct your attention again to Brad’s recent post comparing Bob Rubin and Paul O’Neill. I think it is one of the finest things an economist has written on bureaucracy, ever.
Jacob Levy, following up on my earlier discussions (click here, here, and here) considers how immortal characters in fiction have behaved. Many but not all are extremely risk-averse. Part of the basic thread is how immortality would change our behavior. Randall Parker argues that immortality would not alter our behavior much, at least not until we could alter our genetic programming.
As expected, President Bush’s plan for a moon base and eventual trip to Mars failed to ignite. MR readers have some better ideas.
Honorable mention goes to Roger Meiners for suggesting that a moon base is a good idea so long as Congress and the President must occupy it. Now I am inspired!
Third place goes to Chris Rasch for brain freezing. Chris Rasch writes “I believe that reversible cryopreservation of the human brain could be developed. Remarkable advances have already been made on a shoestring budget. Such a technology would allow people dying today to halt the dying process until technology can advance to the point that we can cure their disease or repair their injuries. I would wager that, for a mere billion dollars, which is far more than has probably been spent on cryobiology during the entire existence of the field, we could have effectively unbounded lifespans. We could then use those extra years to pursue all of the other goals that other submitters may send to you.”
I like the cryonics idea and have thought seriously about signing up (believe it or not, one of my colleagues (not Tyler) has already done so). The reason the idea takes third place is that we don’t see a big private demand for cryonics and the public is more likely to think this idea crazy than inspiring.
Second place goes to Nick Shultz for suggesting that we “provide potable water for everyone on the planet.” A number of other ideas were also motivated by the goal of alleviating abject third-world poverty. I think these ideas are inspiring but am unsure whether we can deliver on them given that so many of the problems of the third world have to do with poor governance. My suggestion would be to work on something related but more under our own control. We could do far worse, for example, than following Bill Gates’s lead and put a billion or so into the Malaria Vaccine Initiative.
First place goes to David Wood and Robin Hanson both of whom suggested a space elevator. At first, the space elevator idea seems impossible, even absurd. The idea is to string a cable some 62,000 miles long from a spot on the equator up into outerspace. Wouldn’t it fall down? No, recall that a sateillite some 22,000 miles up is in geosynchronous orbit. The space elevator would extend enough past this point so that gravity at the lower end and centripetal acceleration at the far end would keep the cable under tension. Once the cable is strung, reaching outerspace is as simple as Jack climbing the beanstock.
The most difficult part of the space elevator is finding a material strong enough to carry a load yet light enough not to collapse under its own weight – a short time ago there was no such material but today it’s believed that carbon nanotubes could do the job (nano-technology more generally was another favourite of MR readers and this proposal would advance that cause.)
A space elevator is a game-changer because it dramatically lowers the cost of putting payloads into space. Moreover, once you have one elevator it becomes much easier to get a second. In contrast, rockets are always going to be expensive because you have to carry a lot of fuel just to lift the fuel and sitting on top of 4 million pounds of explosive is always going to be dangerous. The space elevator would provide a permanent access point to the stars and it can be had for less than 100 billion. Going up anyone?
Yes it is true:
Women actually spent more on technology last year than men, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. It says women accounted for $55 billion of the $96 billion spent on electronics gear.
* Women are involved in 89 percent of all consumer electronics purchase decisions.
* Eighty-four (84) percent of women believe that new technologies can help improve their lives.
* Forty-eight (48) percent of women age 18-34 own a digital camera.
On the downside, nearly three-quarters complain that sales personnel ignore, patronize, or offend them while shopping.
Read the full post of Robert Tagorda to learn how retailers and manufacturers are making greater efforts to appeal to this customer segment.
Apparently not the Swiss residents of the canton of Schaffhausen, in the northern part of Switzerland. Schaffhausen is in fact moving to a system of “degressive” taxation. That’s right, lower tax rates for the rich:
Beginning in January 2004, Schaffhausen will replace its system of increasing marginal tax rates on income with a system of degressive marginal rates. The cantonal tax rate will be set at just under 8 percent for income of SFr 100,000. It will rise to a peak of 11.5 percent for income between SFr 600,000 and SFr 800,000. Thereafter, the marginal rate declines with each incremental chunk of income: 10 percent at SFr 1,300,000; 8 percent at SFr 3,000,000; and just over 6 percent for income more than SFr 10,000,000. This is a true incentive-based tax system–the larger one’s income, the lower one’s marginal rate.
Declining marginal tax rates will also apply to wealth taxes, further enhancing the degressivity of cantonal taxes.
Schaffhausen has its own legislative parliament, which contains eighty deputies representing all regions within the canton. Eight political parties compete for these seats. Evidently Schaffhausen’s voters support a tax cut that gives the greatest benefits to the richest people. They believe that attracting wealthy individuals to reside in their midst is good for everyone.
Here is the full story. I don’t expect to have any data on this soon, but I am pleased to see the experiment. One question, of course, is whether cross-canton migration effects (as opposed to labor supply effects) are beneficial for Switzerland as a whole, or just for Schaffhausen. It does not create aggregate value to shuffle rich people from one canton to another. In any case I am amused to see an idea that finally weakens Alvin Rabushka’s loyalty to the flat tax.
Addendum: I am embarrassed to admit that co-blogger Alex tells me he posted on this topic some time ago, read his coverage as well.
The NY Times has a nice article on the Sims online game, where for a monthly fee you can join a virtual society and create an alter ego. Since your online personna can accumulate possessions that only exist in the game, people sell these virtual possessions for real dollars on ebay, especially the rare Sims pet – the cheetah! If you accumulate enough virtual dollars, you can sell these for real cash.
Trouble’s brewing, though. The owners of Sims online have expelled Peter Ludlow from their game, presumably because he was a virtual muckracker. In the Alphaville Herald, he’d report on criminal rings and teenage prostitution. The problem is that these are all constructs in a computer, not real world events. Of course, free speech issues come into play because Sims online has become a sort of quasi-public space, like the shopping mall. But there are important differences – you have to pay to get in and you sign away certain rights. It will be interesting to see if any regulation is ever applied to virtual online communities aside from the laws applying to any legitimate business.
Deirdre McCloskey has made a name for herself by critically examining the logic and rhetoric of economic arguments. She has a nice pamphlet summarizing her claims called “The Secret Sins of Economics.” It’s written for non-economists and nicely makes three points:
1. Some alleged problems of economics are virtues. For example, using math to describe and analyze economic behavior is actually good because math allows you to clearly deduce conclusions from premises.
2. There are some drawbacks to economics that are annoying, but acceptable. For example, economists assume people are always chasing profits. Her response is to say that this narrow focus tends to yield interesting insights. McCloskey identifies other drawbacks of economics and economists, such as professional arrogance, but asks that we forgive those because they really aren’t that bad.
3. McCloskey identifies two horrible, unforgivable economic sins – (a) economists tend to prove qualitative mathematical theorems whose conclusions depend on arbitrary, qualitative premises and (b) statistical analyses routinely confuse statistiscal and substantial significance.
These are pretty weighty charges – that much theoretical economic work is just a useless game and economists (among others) make routine statistical errors no decent statistics undergrad would ever make.
How to respond? I’m not a professional economist – so I can’t speak for the economics profession, but I think the second charge – misunderstanding of significance – is right on target. I’ve told students and colleagues many times that “not significant” does not mean “no effect.” It simply means that you can’t automatically reject the hypothesis that, according to an arbitrary standard, there is no effect, which is different than saying there really is no effect. As McCloskey says, significance is simply a measure of confidence in the effect’s measurement. The whole situation is quite bad. For a summary of anti-significance test views, see the book “What if there were no significance tests?”
This first charge doesn’t bother me too much. All academic endeavors must engage in thought experiments. In fact, bizarre, unrealistic thought experiments can lead to some great insights. But what McCloskey, I think, really focuses on is the lack of empirical discipline. That is to say, when you come up with the premise of your theorem, it should be well justified.
When I studied math, there was a real difference between how mathematicians did it and how physicists did it. Math people are purely concerned with what is logically possible (does B really follow from A?) but physicists employ “physical intuition” – a sense of what assumptions were appropriate, a gut feeling developed from doing lots of experiments and observation. That’s why a lot of physics seems mysterious to mathematicians – the math looks familiar, but why did the physics people choose mathematical model X over Y? McCloskey’s point could be rephrased as saying that economists should move away from the mathematician’s style of modelling (proving what is logically possible) to the physics style of modeling (developing models inspired and constrained by observation and experiment).
Read the ever-impressive Randall Parker over at Futurepundit.com. Here is a quotation from one of his links:
Lahn and his colleagues found that the ASPM gene showed clear evidence of changes accelerated by evolutionary pressure in the lineage leading to humans, and the acceleration is most prominent in recent human evolution after humans parted way from chimpanzees.
“In our work, we have looked at evolution of a large number of genes, and in the vast number of cases, we see only weak signatures of adaptive changes,” said Lahn. “So, I was quite surprised to see that this one gene shows such strong and unambiguous signatures of adaptive evolution – more so than most other genes we’ve studied.”
By contrast, the researchers’ analyses of the ASPM gene in the more primitive monkeys and in cows, sheep, cats, dogs, mice and rats, showed no accelerated evolutionary change. “The fact that we see this accelerated evolution of ASPM specifically in the primate lineage leading to humans, and not in these other mammals, makes a good case that the human lineage is special,” said Lahn.
The bottom line: The plausibility of the view that human beings are special has just gone up.
Parker is one of the most rigorous and versatile writers in the blogosphere, here is his recent account of our greater ability to predict earthquakes.
Addendum: Read this article on exactly why monkeys have trouble with human language.
Read Brad DeLong on how Paul O’Neill could have been, but wasn’t, a good Secretary of the Treasury.
Anti-aging drugs appear closer on the horizon, but how would a fountain of youth change our behavior? Lawrence Solum asks whether potential immortals would be afraid to ever put their lives at risk:
Given eternally long lives, the real issue concerns taking risks…So the question becomes, “Would it be rational to engage in regular low-risk behaviors (like daily walking), given that over the course of an eternal life, death would be the almost certain consequence?” One might imagine that in the beginning, such behaviors would continue, but that over time one would begin to realize that the odds were catching up with friends, family, and co-workers. Would the loss of eternal life really be a greater cost than the loss of the current human span of several decades? If the answer to this question were yes, then perhaps most humans would began to avoid risk. A very cautious approach to life might add tens of thousands of years to one’s anticipated life span. I have an image of fine restaraunts serving only minced food to avoid the small (but statistically significant) risk of choking. No roller-skating, no skiing, no contact sports, no flying on airplances, no boating, no swimming. Would the eternal life lived to minimize risk be a recognizably human life?
Update: An astute reader notes that in contemporary vampire fiction, ancient vampires are generally potrayed as extremely risk averse–employing proxies when personal action in accord with their conception of the good (the bad?) would involve a significant risk to their immortality.
A related question is whether immortals would be less ambitious, since they might always feel they could accomplish their goals in a more distant future. As long as we are citing fiction, I recall seeing a television show about immortal beings. They were content to remain homeless and spent most of their time sitting around a campfire and talking. They accumulated few possessions. They never feared such a course of action would lead to death, and they always held the option of trying to do more.
Solum’s query was prompted by a Volokh Conspiracy post of mine. I asked the different question of whether an immortal is necessarily a murderer with a probability approaching one, given the recurring risk of accidents.
Addendum: Read the commentary of Randall Parker.
Sometimes you share just to shut people up:
Stevens [the researcher] placed chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) or squirrel monkeys (Saimiri boliviensis) in a cage and provided them with a meal of fruit. In an adjoining cage was a hungry member of the same species.
The primates rarely passed food through the cage to their hungry mate next door. But if the partition was opened – giving the hungry animal the chance to beg, steal or fight for food – sharing was common.
It is analogous to a parent buying a child a toy just to shut them up, says Stevens. “It’s a selfish way to stop the constant pestering,” he says.
Intriguingly, hungry chimps harassed their neighbour more when the food was cut into small chunks. This could reflect the fact that a beggar is more likely to get a handout if it doesn’t seriously deplete the donor’s stash.
This form of ‘strategic begging’ could help scroungers find success by setting their sights low, Stevens speculates. “It’s like a kid saying: ‘Can I have four cookies? Ok, how about one?’,” he says. Likewise, most street-corner beggars ask passers-by for nothing more than their small change.