Month: December 2006

Which universities are declining for revolutionary science?

The American West is rising, Harvard is falling:

Nobel laureates nations and research institutions
were measured between 1947-2006 in 20 year segments.  The minimum
threshold for inclusion was 3 Nobel prizes.  Credit was allocated to
each laureate’s institution and nation of residence at the time of
award.  Over 60 years, the USA has 19 institutions which won three-plus
Nobel prizes in 20 years, the UK has 4, France has 2 and Sweden and
USSR 1 each.  Four US institutions won 3 or more prizes in all 20 year
segments: Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley and CalTech.  The most successful
institution in the past 20 years was MIT, with 11 prizes followed by
Stanford (9), Columbia and Chicago (7).   But the Western United States
has recently become the world dominant region for revolutionary
science, generating a new generation of elite public universities:
University of Colorado at Boulder; University of Washington at Seattle;
and the University of California institutions of Santa Barbara, Irvine,
UCSF, and UCLA; also the Fred Hutchinson CRC in Seattle.  Since 1986 the
USA has 16 institutions which have won 3 plus prizes, but elsewhere in
the world only the College de France has achieved this.  In UK’s
Cambridge University, Cambridge MRC unit, Oxford and Imperial College
have declined from 17 prizes in 1967-86 to only 3 since then.  Harvard
has also declined as a revolutionary science university from being the
top Nobel-prize-winning institution for 40 years, to currently joint
sixth position. 
Although Nobel science prizes are sporadically won
by numerous nations and institutions, it seems that long term national
strength in revolutionary science is mainly a result of sustaining and
newly-generating multi-Nobel-winning research centres.  At present these
elite institutions are found almost exclusively in the USA.  The USA is
apparently the only nation with a scientific research system that
nurtures revolutionary science on a large scale.

That is from a forthcoming paper by Bruce Charlton, here is the full link.

Walt Whitman on protectionism

The protectionists are fond of flashing to the public eye the glittering delusion of great money — results from manufactures, mines, artificial exports — so many millions from this source, and so many from that — such a seductive, unanswerable show — an immense revenue of cash from iron, cotton, woollen, leather  goods, and a hundred other things, all bolstered up "protection".  But the really important point of all is, into whose pockets does this plunder go?…The profits of "protection" go altogether to a few score select persons–who, by favors of Congress, State legislatures, the banks, and other special advantages, are forming a vulgar aristocracy full as bad as anything in the British and European castes, of blood, or the dynasties there of the past…

That is from p.332 of Specimen Days & Collect, Dover edition.  Thanks to Michael Gibson for the pointer.

The most amazing cultural events of 2006

Here is a feature; here is my response:

In January and February 2006, Lincoln Center presented a festival of
live music called The Passion of Osvaldo Golijov.  Golijov, an
Argentinian Jew, is the first breakthrough composer of the new
millennium.  His Ayre (song cycle), Passion According to St. Mark, and Aindamar (opera) make classical music passionate and popular and theatrical once
again.  In particular, I am amazed that a mix of tango, klezmer music,
gospel, Cuban music, and the classics can bear so many repeated
listenings.  Golijov also reflects the growing role of Latin America in
North American high and popular culture.

Ordem e Progresso, part II

Property rights are evolving, and rapidly:

Vigilante militias are alleged to have taken over Rio de Janeiro
slums, ruling as feudal lords and imposing taxes, as a result of the
collapse of legal policing in these areas.

The vigilante militias are made up of off-duty police officers
and former police officers.  They work to expel drug traffickers and
other criminals from favelas, known as Brazil‘s poorest and roughest neighborhoods, to set up protection rackets themselves.

According to Rio De Janeiro’s public security department, 92
favelas are now controlled by militias, up from 42 in April 2005.  They
take over a new neighborhood at an average of 12 days.

Sociologist Ignacio Cano, who works for the Rio de Janeiro
State University, said that the root of the phenomenon is a quest by
corrupt police officers for more money, against the backdrop of falling
drug profits and a drop in bribery.

These officers have decided to take direct control of the
areas and seek other ways to extract cash from Rio’s poorest, he said.

Militias then demand protection money from the neighborhood
they have captured: taxing residents five to seven U.S. dollars per
head for living in the area; demanding two dollars for each tank of
natural gas, the most common source of heat for cooking; and charging
local taxis for entering the area.

I read many articles on this topic but the most insightful is this Chinese source, consistent with what I heard from Brazilian friends

Two questions: first, which groups are the most efficient "bandit-controllers" of the favelas?  Should it be someone who will continue to live there, or someone who owns land there (informally perhaps), or someone altogether different?

Second, would drug legalization do much to limit crime in this setting?  If a group can create a territorial monopoly on selling drugs, and drugs cease to be very profitable, cannot that same territorial monopoly be transferred to other goods and services, as we seem to be observing?  In Rhode Island the vending machine business was long corrupt.  It may be claimed that the illegality of drugs makes them a special target, but keep in mind the laws are not and cannot be enforced inside the favelas.  It is the favela boss who issues the relevant dictates.

As for Rio, here is what went on earlier this week.  I am happy to report that all three of us are back home safe and sound.

Should we ban trans-fats?

Gary Becker does a quick cost-benefit analysis in his head:

With a small taste benefit from the use of trans fats– the New England Medicine Journal article I cited earlier does admit positive effect of trans fats on
"palatability"– the total cost of the ban would equal or exceed total
benefits.  For example, suppose 1 million persons on average eat 200
meals per year in NYC restaurants with trans fats.  If they value the
taste of trans fats in their foods only by 35 cents per meal, the taste
cost to consumers of the ban would be $70 million per year.  Then the
total cost of the ban would equal the benefits from the ban.

If you click on the link, you’ll see some good arguments against paternalism as well.

The Economics of Chocolate


say that 400 florins a year as an assured salary are not to be despised,

and it would be true if in addition I could work myself into a good position

and could treat these 400 florins simply as extra money. But unfortunately,

that is not the case. I would have to consider the 400 florins as my chief

income and everything else I could earn as windfall, the amount of which

would be very uncertain and consequently in all probability very meager.

You can easily understand that one cannot act as independently towards

a pupil who is a princess as towards other ladies. If a princess does not

feel inclined to take a lesson, why, you have the honor of waiting until

she does. She is living out with the Salesians, so that if you do not care

to walk, you have the honor of paying at least 20 kreuzer to drive there

and back. Thus of my pay only 304 florins would remain–that is, if I only

gave three lessons a week. And if I were obliged to wait, I would in the

meantime be neglecting my other pupils or other work (by which I could

easily make more than 400 florins). If I wanted to come into Vienna I would

have to pay double, since I would be obliged to drive out again. If I stayed

out there and were giving my lesson in the morning, as I no doubt would

be doing, I would have to go at lunchtime to some inn, take a wretched

meal and pay extravagantly for it. Moreover, by neglecting my other pupils

I might lose them altogether–for everyone considers his money as good

as that of a princess. At the same time, I would lose the time and inclination

to earn more money by composition. To serve a great lord (in whatever office)

a man should be paid a sufficient income to enable him to to serve his

patron alone, without being obliged to seek additional earnings to

avoid penury. A man must provide against want."

Marginal Revolution Goes Avant-Garde

David Morris, New York City theater artist and long-time reader of MR, is one of the creators of Routine Hearing: Exercises for the Body Politic.

Exercises for the Body Politic
moves to the beat of an original score featuring the luminaries of
political oratory.  From the golden oldies of Goldwater and
McGovern to the modern sounds of Limbaugh and Moore, your headphones
will set the stage for this auditory grand ballet.  Enjoy a glass
of wine, a game of cards and the company of your fellow citizens as one
of HERE’s favorite design teams–David Evans Morris & Juliet
Chia–hit shuffle on the political soundtrack of 21st century.

The lastest installment of Exercises will feature selections from Tyler’s paper Self-Deception as the Root of Political Failure.  Alas, no selections from your truly but if Nixon going to China can become an opera I have high hopes for the musical, Believe in Pascal’s Wager?  Have
I got a deal for you!

You can get tickets to Routine Hearing which plays Jan. 2-3 at the above link.

Addendum: Here are Tyler and I on An
Economic Theory of Avant-Garde and
Popular Art, or High and Low Culture
(JSTOR link).

How to appreciate Shakespeare

…right now, at this very moment, one can see more great Shakespeare, one can find more transformative Shakespearean experiences, from what is already on film even in the form of tape or DVD on a television screen than the average person, even the average critic, will see on stage in a life time.

That is from Ron Rosenbaum’s generally quite good The Shakespeare Wars.  His list:

1. Orson Welles, Chimes at Midnight [TC: also Welles’s best movie]
2. Peter Brook, King Lear
3. Richard III, with Laurence Olivier
4. Hamlet, with Richard Burton

To this list I would add Welles’s Othello and — more controversially — Baz Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Haitian voodoo scenes and all; Rosembaum is more positive than negative about that one, but it doesn’t make his list.

Universal 401k accounts

Today’s New York Times column is here.  Excerpts:

Just as the earned-income tax credit pays poor people to work, the universal 401(k) would pay poor people to save…By directing the benefits toward the neediest, the universal 401(k)
savings plan tries to increase economic security in a cost-effective

There is an obvious way to pay for a universal 401(k)
plan.  For every dollar spent on the universal 401(k), the federal
government could spend one dollar less on Medicare and Social Security

It may seem that what the poor need is more money to spend, but the
universal 401(k) plan is taking a gamble by encouraging them to lock up
more savings.  Perhaps support for a culture of savings and discipline
is more important than subsidizing additional spending.

…A fiscally responsible universal 401(k) plan would not make everyone
happy.  Libertarians and conservatives would be suspicious of
government-created accounts.  Liberals might not like freezing or
reducing future expenditures on Medicare and Social Security.  But if we
are looking for policy initiatives that address real-world problems and
offer something to each side, encouraging low-income savings is a good
place to start.

My favorite things Brazil, music edition

1. Classical music: Villa-Lobos for sure, his guitar music most of all.  Hector Miolin and Joseph Bacon made excellent recordings.

2. Acoustic guitar: We all know the jazz and bossa nova player Baden Powell, but John Fahey was rightly obsessed with Bola Sete, an acoustic blues player with licks from another planet.  Even many well-informed "guitar specialists" don’t know his work.

3. MPB: There are so many wonderful figures, buy Brazil Classics 1, 2, and 3 for the best overviews; all the cuts are selected by David Byrne.  Brazil Classics 1 would be one of my ten desert island discs and sometimes I feel it is my favorite CD period.  Beleza Tropical 2 is a good follow-up disc.  Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t think many of the MPB albums stand on their own, but the best cuts are unforgettable.

4. Copied by Beck: Os Mutantes ["We are Mutants"] is one of the best groups of the 1960s.  When it comes to putting together a song in the studio, they rate just behind the Beatles and Brian Wilson.  The "Best of" CD is a good place to start; Beck will never ever sound the same again.

5. Brazilian electronica: Start with Suba’s Sao Paulo Confessions, one of the subtlest techno albums.  For a good collection of the music he inspired, try The Now Sound of Brazil, which includes cuts by Cibelle, Bebel Gilberto, Zuco 103, and others.  This is a growing and vital genre.

6. Drum music: First prize goes to Olodum, they are best live, preferably late at night in the town square in Salvador, Bahia, which I have yet to experience.  They play on Paul Simon’s "The Obvious Child," which can be downloaded on iTunes.  Honorable mention to Timbalada and Ile Aiye.

7. Forro: To call it "jaunty and infectious accordion music" does not do it justice; Music for Maids and Taxi Drivers is one good introduction, plus anything by Luis Gonzaga.

8. Classical pianist: Nelson Freire remains underrated, here is a Chopin recital, better than Rubinstein.

There is more, and more, and more.  Most of it I don’t even know.  Here are some different recommendations.

The bottom line: Very few countries have better music than Brazil.  If you take away the United States, Brazil might have the world lead.  If you don’t know this stuff, you have much to live for.  Please do put your further recommendations in the comments.

Sao Paulo is banning outdoor advertising

Imagine a modern metropolis with no outdoor advertising: no billboards,
no flashing neon signs, no electronic panels with messages crawling
along the bottom. Come the new year, this city of 11 million,
overwhelmed by what the authorities call visual pollution, plans to
press the “delete all” button and offer its residents an unimpeded view
of their surroundings…

The outsized billboards and screens that dominate the skyline,
promoting everything from autos, jeans and cellphones to banks and sex
shops, will have to come down, as will all other forms of publicity in
public space, like distribution of fliers.

The law also
regulates the dimensions of store signs and outlaws any advertising on
the sides of the city’s thousands of buses and taxis.

Here is the full story.  As far as I can tell (my last visit was eight years ago, however), most of it is not down yet.  In any case I suspect the city is more attractive with the commercial angle.  The underlying buildings are mostly ugly, so a fanciful clutter will do better than an attempt at sleek postmodernism.

By the way, it was already the case that most of Sao Paulo’s 13,000 or so outdoor billboards were installed illegally.  The goal is to clear the space entirely, so that any single offender sticks out very obviously and can be prosecuted.  But of course the tipping point matters.  Whatever change ends up in place, I expect a slow creep back towards the status quo ex ante.

Markets in everything, shoe laces and masochism edition

One of the biggest annoyances in long-distance running is lace
management. After banging out 50 miles, it can be hard to squat or even
bend over long enough to tie your shoes.  The North Face recently
responded to Karnazes’ complaints and came out with the $130 M Endurus
XCR Boa.  Its laceless upper is enmeshed in thin steel cables that
connect to a tension dial at the back. A simple turn cinches the shoe
onto the foot.  No more slowing down to fiddle with laces.

Here is the full story of an obsessed runner.  Get this bit:

Finding four hours for a 30-mile run during the day was next to impossible. The solution: sleep less…He now gets about four hours of shut-eye a night.

By the way…

…in 1995 Karnazes entered a 199-mile relay race – by himself.  He competed against eight teams of 12 and finished eighth.

The Power of Philanthropy

The British Museum is one of the world’s premier arts institutions.  But last year it spent less than a million pounds on new acquisitions.  Compare this to the more than 55 million pounds spent by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, or the more than 20 million pounds spent by MOMA.  The Met figure is inflated above normal levels because of the purchase of an expensive Duccio painting but the comparison remains.  The Louvre spent 16.8 million pounds in the same year, coming in third internationally.  The Getty was fourth and the Rijksmuseum fifth.

That is from The Art Newspaper, December 2006, p.25.  Here is a good article on a Frenchman who has realized the power of decentralized philanthropy.  Here is a good article on NYU’s obsession with philanthropy.

Should we keep prostitutes on the streets?

Getting the pros off the streets, it seems, turns them into careerists:

In the mid-1990s, changes to law enforcement strategies in New York City pushed many women working in the sex trade off of the streets and into the indoors.  Increasing numbers of women began advertising sexual services in bars, over the Internet, and in print media, and conducting their work in their homes, hotels, and brothels.  This study uses in-depth interviews and participant observation to examine the impact of this change on the life and work of women working in New York’s indoor sex trade.  A critical finding is that as women move their work indoors, they begin to conceive of sex work as a profession and a career, rather than just a short-term means of employment.  This “professional and careerist orientation” may have significant implications for the length of women’s tenure in sex work and ultimately, for their ability to exit the trade completely.

Here is the full paper, by Alexandra K. Murphy and Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh.