Month: October 2012

Small knaps to a better scraper: the economics of stone sharpening in Neanderthals

That title is suggested to me by Sam Penrose, who sends this article along:

“A fundamental assumption is that the most important factor in lithic techno-economics is the amount of cutting edge you can extract from your raw material. So making thinner flakes with more edge overall is a more economic use of stone resources. Dibble took a very large scale approach to the archaeological record, and suggests an overarching pattern of increasing economy through time. Early Stone Age flakes from the African Oldowan are variable in size, but have average levels of economy, measured by edge : mass. By the Middle Palaeolithic, techno-economics have become improved, but interestingly through two approaches. Prepared core technology, or the Levallois technique, permits control over the flakes produced, and, depending on the style used, can result in either wide/long and thin flakes.”

Seoul notes

It is remarkable how well everything works here, even relative to expectations.  The economic ascendancy of South Korea has been more rapid than that of Japan, and for a larger group of people than Hong Kong or Singapore.  The initial level of education was much lower than in Japan.  The Korean social miracle is no less impressive than the Korean economic miracle.

By the way, can you explain the South and North in a single unified theory of culture and regimes?

French-Korean bakeries are extremely common here.

The Samsung Museum is of higher quality than the National Museum, including for patrimony pieces not just Warhol and Koons.

My hotel toilet is complicated and I am afraid to press the one button which simply says “Enema.”

I saw the two main Korean presidential candidates “debate,” both of them using communitarian redistributionist rhetoric with a rather flat delivery, preceded by and followed by a bow.  Toward the end one of them endorsed the work of Malcolm Gladwell, in front of Gladwell.

I am pleased to have spent one minute inside North Korea, with Alex, guarded by five South Korean martial arts experts and one U.S. soldier.

The question I hear most often is what I think of Gangnam style and the video.  The second is whether I am a Christian.

There are so many coffee shops here.  But why?

South Koreans have now dominated the game of Go for about fifteen years.

Sentences to ponder (the IMF on fiscal policy and multipliers)

For the countries where the full data is available on the IMF website, the results lose statistical significance if Greece and Germany are excluded.

Moreover, the IMF results are presented as general but are limited to the specific time period chosen. The 2010 forecasts of deficits are not good predictors of errors in growth forecasts for 2010 or 2011 when the years are analysed individually. Its 2011 forecasts are not good predictors of anything.

Economists contacted by the FT worried about the robustness of the techniques used. Jonathan Portes, director of the UK’s National Institute of Economic and Social Research, worried that cross-country studies with small samples never prove anything, even though he strongly believes multipliers are large.

I suspect that FT blog post is not one which will be shouted by many from the rooftops.  Multiple hat tips are expressed here.

Good sentences

From Matt Yglesias:

…it’s simply not the case that contracting out lets you do away with the unelected panel of experts that Obama needs to make his price controls work. The premium support model of Medicare has at its heart a panel of experts determining the value of each person’s voucher since absent demographic and health status adjustment the whole system will be ruined by adverse selection.

Here are some related points from Ezra Klein, including a discussion of Paul Ryan.

Handicapping the 2012 Nobel

This article mentions Alvin Roth, Bob Shiller, Richard Thaler, Robert Barro, Lars Hansen, Anthony Atkinson, Angus Deaton, Jean Tirole, Stephen Ross, and William Nordhaus.

I’ll predict a triple prize to Shiller, Thaler, and Eugene Fama.  Fama clearly deserves it, can’t win it solo (too strongly EMH in an age of financial crisis), but can be bundled with two people from behavioral finance and irrational exuberance theories.

Barro will get it, but not in an election year.  Hansen and Ross are good picks but I don’t see them getting it before Fama does.  Paul Romer deserves mention but this is probably not his year because of politics in Honduras.

William Baumol cannot be ruled out.  A neat idea — but unlikely — is Martin Feldstein and Joseph Newhouse for their pioneering work in health care economics, plus for Feldstein there is public finance too.

Tirole and Nordhaus are deserving perennials, with various bundlings (e.g., Oliver Hart, or for Nordhaus other names in environmental).  I hope the Krueger-Tullock idea is not dead but I would bet against it, same with Armen Alchian and Albert Hirschman.  Dale Jorgensen has a shot.

I believe Duflo and Banerjee (and possibly Michael Kremer too, maybe even Robert Townsend) will get it sooner than people are expecting, though not this year as they just presented in Stockholm.  Next year I think.

Not once in the past have I been right about this.

Addendum: Here is the talk from Northwestern.

A correction from *Nature*

Corrected:    In the original text, we wrongly attributed to Enrico Spolaore the opinion that using genetic data in economics could help policy-makers to set immigration levels. He actually suggested that the work could reduce barriers to the flows of ideas and innovations across populations. The text has been amended to reflect that.

The link is here.  The earlier MR post is here.  I thank a loyal MR reader for the pointer.

The spread of priority queueing

Here is one example of many:

Take the Six Flags White Water amusement park in Atlanta, which implemented a priority queue system in 2011.

Some guests simply queue up for their rides. Those who purchase green-and-gold wrist bands – fitted with radio frequency technology – are able to swim in the pool or eat snacks before being alerted to their turn.

Guests who pay an even higher fee – roughly double the price of admission – get the gold flash pass, cutting their waiting time in half.

The company says it has been a huge hit and is now installing the system in all of its American water parks.


The priority queuing system has also started to be extended to the public sphere. Many people who drive to Six Flags White Water take Interstate highway I-85.

In October 2011, Atlanta created a priority lane on the highway for drivers with a Peach Pass – the price of driving in the lane changes depending on how much traffic there is.

For the pointer I thank Ray Lopez.

“A new market for weddings” — Market makers in everything

Here is a new service:

Over 250,000 weddings are called off every year.
We purchase cancelled weddings and resell them to new couples.

Sellers recover deposits and upfront costs hassle-free.
Venues and providers enjoy uninterrupted business as usual.
Buyers find beautiful, pre-planned weddings at a fraction of the price.

Register with us and help us build a new market for weddings.

For the pointer I thank John Farrier.

Crack cocaine and education

From William N. Evans, Craig Garthwaite, Timothy J. Moore:

We propose the rise of crack cocaine markets as an explanation for the end to the convergence in black-white educational outcomes beginning in the mid-1980s. After constructing a measure to date the arrival of crack markets in cities and states, we show large increases in murder and incarceration rates after these dates. Black high school graduation rates also decline, and we estimate that crack markets accounts for between 40 and 73 percent of the fall in black male high school graduation rates. We argue that the primary mechanism is reduced educational investments in response to decreased returns to schooling.

The ungated version is here.

Paradoxes of Internet Regulation–Korea Edition

Google’s maps of Seoul are peculiar, they offer public transit directions but not driving directions. Turns out that this is due to Korean law (the Measurement Act) which prohibits the export of Korean map data without obtaining government approval. (The distinction appears to be that driving directions are “new” maps and thus unapproved while transit directions are fixed and can be approved in advance of generation.)

Local versions of Google satellite imagery are also much lower resolution in South Korea due to military restrictions. Google has argued that by satisfying the law within a country it satistifes that country’s law, a policy rule on Google’s part that I applaud, but this policy does lead to the paradox that the images of South Korea available in South Korea are not as high resolution as those available in North Korea!

More generally, however, the bigger Google gets the more countries it has a physical presence in (servers, sales staff and support etc.) and thus the more leverage individual countries, especially large countries, will have to degrade the services that Google offers not just within-country but to the world.

Controversies over economics and genetics

To critics, the economists’ paper seems to suggest that a country’s poverty could be the result of its citizens’ genetic make-up, and the paper is attracting charges of genetic determinism, and even racism. But the economists say that they have been misunderstood, and are merely using genetics as a proxy for other factors that can drive an economy, such as history and culture. The debate holds cautionary lessons for a nascent field that blends genetics with economics, sometimes called genoeconomics. The work could have real-world pay-offs, such as helping policy-makers to set the right level of immigration to boost the economy, says Enrico Spolaore, an economist at Tufts University near Boston, Massachusetts, who has also used global genetic-diversity data in his research.

But the economists at the forefront of this field clearly need to be prepared for harsh scrutiny of their techniques and conclusions. At the centre of the storm is a 107-page paper by Oded Galor of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and Quamrul Ashraf of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. It has been peer-reviewed by economists and biologists, and will soon appear in American Economic Review, one of the most prestigious economics journals.

The full story is here.  The previous MR post on the dispute, which includes a link to the paper, is here.