Month: March 2013

The Flynn effect vs. population aging

Here is some good news for you all on Easter Sunday, good news until 2042 that is:

Although lifespan changes in cognitive performance and Flynn effects have both been well documented, there has been little scientific focus to date on the net effect of these forces on cognition at the population level. Two major questions moving beyond this finding guided this study: (1) Does the Flynn effect indeed continue in the 2000s for older adults in a UK dataset (considering immediate recall, delayed recall, and verbal fluency)? (2) What are the net effects of population aging and cohort replacement on average cognitive level in the population for the abilities under consideration?

First, in line with the Flynn effect, we demonstrated continued cognitive improvements among successive cohorts of older adults. Second, projections based on different scenarios for cognitive cohort changes as well as demographic trends show that if the Flynn effect observed in recent years continues, it would offset the corresponding age-related cognitive decline for the cognitive abilities studied. In fact, if observed cohort effects should continue, our projections show improvements in cognitive functioning on a population level until 2042—in spite of population aging.

That is from Vegard Skirbekk, Marcin Stonawski, Eric Bonsang, and Ursula M. Staudinger, and one gated link is here.  Do any of you know of an ungated copy?

For the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

China estimate of the day

More than half of the rivers previously thought to exist in China appear to be missing, according to the 800,000 surveyors who compiled the first national water census, leaving Beijing fumbling to explain the cause.

Only 22,909 rivers covering an area of 100sq km were located by surveyors, compared with the more than 50,000 in the 1990s, a three-year study by the Ministry of Water Resources and the National Bureau of Statistics found.

Officials blame the apparent loss on climate change, arguing that it has caused waterways to vanish, and on mistakes by earlier cartographers. But environmental experts say the disappearance of the rivers is a real and direct manifestation of headlong, ill-conceived development, where projects are often imposed without public consultation.

Here is more, via @DavidGrann.

Assorted links

1. Velocity maps.

2. Carmina Burana, sung by parents (short video).  And how to get low-income, high achievers into better schools.

3. Japan, etc., “Apparently, though, the main “fun” to be had with these products is to use them as a stage for posing 1:12-scale figurines…”

4. North Korean propaganda about the United States (short video);  “These telephones no longer work.” is perhaps the best line, or the coffee made of snow.  Update: actually a hoax.

5. Do personality differences drive the taste for spicy food?

6. Yale Journal of Economics, for undergraduates.

Hat tip to Chug today!

Ralph Waldo Emerson on ideas

What is the scholar, what is the man for, but for hospitality to every new thought of his time?  Have you leisure, power, property, friends? you shall be the asylum and patron of every new thought, every unproven opinion, every untried project, which proceeds out of good will and honest seeking.  All the newspapers, all the tongues of to-day will of course at first defame what is noble; but you who hold not of to-day, not of the times, but of the Everlasting, are to stand for it: and the highest compliment, man ever receives from heaven, is the sending to him its disguised and discredited angels.

That is from Introductory Lecture on the Times.

“Why so many jobs are crappy”

I would have titled the post differently, shortened it, brought out more implications, and made it less dependent on the mathematics.  Still, this contribution from Heteconomist has that special something, namely insight.

The first key point is that if you learn more on the job on a regular basis (i.e., your job is interesting), you become harder to replace from the point of view of your boss.  Over time you win more of the bargaining surplus.  That means we end up with jobs with an inefficiently low level of learning and jobs are too boring relative to an optimum.

The post closes with this:

A different application of the argument presented here would be to consider the circumstances under which instances of bad luck in competition for employment could have long-lasting effects on the earnings of individual workers. Workers who luckily gain appointment into good jobs, perhaps initially contrary to merit, will get the opportunity to learn on the job and lock in their advantage, whereas unlucky workers consigned to bad jobs, again perhaps contrary to merit, might have a tough time reversing their fortunes.

I like the present application, though, in which capitalist deskilling emerges partly as a response to the effects on worker discipline that are potentially created by on-the-job learning.

Applications to nepotism are left as an exercise to the reader.  For the pointer I thank @Interfluidity.

A Brilliant New Method of Price Discrimination: Flip to Fly

To maximize profit, airlines want to charge higher prices to consumers who are willing to pay more (inelastic demand) and lower prices to those who won’t buy unless the price is low (elastic demand). In essence, this comes down to charging business travelers more and leisure travelers less. In our textbook, Tyler and I discuss some of the classic methods of distinguishing these two types of consumers. Business travelers, for example, are more likely to want to travel at the last-minute so airlines give discounts to those who book several weeks in advance. Business travelers are also less likely to want to stay over a Saturday so a Friday to Sunday flight is cheaper than a Monday to Wednesday flight. In our next edition, we will have to include a brilliant new method pioneered by Here from the NYTimes is how it works:

Instead of bidding, you choose two places you would like to visit (say, Miami and Los Angeles), select your travel dates and flights, then enter your credit card details. GetGoing randomly chooses one of the two trips and books your ticket, which you can’t change or cancel.

… GetGoing promises savings of up to 40 percent off published airfares, but the coin flip reassures the airlines that they are giving these discounts to leisure travelers, not business travelers who would pay a higher price because they have to fly.


Hat tip: William Gadea.

Self-punishment and incentives

[LeBron] James told me that when he was working on his 3s, he’d punish himself until he met a lofty set of self-enforced shooting milestones.

“It’s work,” James says. “It’s a lot of work. It’s being in workouts, and not accomplishing your goal, and paying for it. So, if I get to a spot in a workout and want to make eight out of 10, if I don’t make eight of 10, then I run. I push myself to the point of exhaustion until I make that goal. So you build up that mentality that you got to make that shot and then use that in a game situation — it’s the ultimate feeling, when you’re able to work on something and implement it.”

Here is more, all of it focused on how LeBron James improved his game.

It can’t happen here?: Cyprus and money market funds

Cyprus of course differs from the U.S. in many significant ways, and furthermore I recoil at the notion that America is the “next Greece,” or who otherwise make inappropriate international comparisons.

Still, what if we try to look for the closest parallel possible? What is the closest the United States could come to a Cyprus-like situation?

The all-too-vulnerable arm of our U.S. financial system is money market funds.  That is about $2.7 trillion on the books, much of it driven by regulatory arbitrage.

Ten percent of the assets of money market funds are supposed to be liquid.  Yet the average capital cushion is quite low, as the industry resists attempts to impose a legal one to three percent buffer (here is one proposal for capital cushions and a class A/class B structure).  Post Dodd-Frank it is much harder, arguably impossible, for the Fed to bail out money market funds, as was done in 2008.  So our control over our own currency may not pay off on this issue.

There are repeated and largely unheeded warnings of money market funds as a source of systemic risk.  Some of the common proposals for money market funds involve “standby liquidity fees” and “temporary redemption gates.”  Sound familiar?  Of course losses on these assets could not approach the Cyprus level but still we could have a disastrous run.

I am not suggesting there is an easy way to solve this problem, or that a crisis will happen anytime very soon.  I am simply noting that, along at least one dimension, we are more vulnerable than is commonly realized.  We are just a little more like Cyprus than one might think.

American writing is now more emotional than British writing (big data for books)

From Alberto Acerbi, Vasileios Lampos, Philip Garnett, and R. Alexander Bentley:

Our results also support the popular notion that American authors express more emotion than the British. Somewhat surprisingly, this difference has apparently developed only since the 1960s, and as part of a more general stylistic differentiation in American versus British English, reflected similarly in content-free word frequencies. This relative increase of American mood word use roughly coincides with the increase of anti–social and narcissistic sentiments in U.S. popular song lyrics from 1980 to 2007, as evidenced by steady increases in angry/antisocial lyrics and in the percentage of first-person singular pronouns (e.g., Imemine), with a corresponding decrease in words indicating social interactions (e.g., matetalkchild) over the same 27-year period.

And there is this:

As these findings appear to genuinely reflect changes in published language, a remaining question is whether word usage represents real behavior in a population, or possibly an absence of that behavior which is increasingly played out via literary fiction (or online discourse). It has been suggested, for example, that it was the suppression of desire in ordinary Elizabethan English life that increased demand for writing “obsessed with romance and sex”. So while it is easy to conclude that Americans have themselves become more ‘emotional’ over the past several decades, perhaps songs and books may not reflect the real population any more than catwalk models reflect the average body; the observed changes reflect the book market, rather than a direct change in American culture. We believe the changes do reflect changes in culture, however, because unlike lyrics of the top 10 songs, the book data are independent of book sales.

The full article is here, with other points of interest.  For instance of the major emotions coded for, disgust is the one least likely to show up in book writing.  I owe the pointer to someone or other on Twitter, but right now it is simply an open window on my computer, next to the Twitter window.

Big data for dogs?

From Ireland:

Legislation requiring all dogs to be microchipped is to be introduced by Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney.

Mr Coveney told the Dáil it would take some time to put the necessary regulation in place and there would be a proper consultation process to ensure it was done right and was cost-effective.

He said microchipping would apply across the board, as it did already with dog-breeding establishments and the greyhound industry. “We cannot have different standards applying depending on where a puppy happens to come from,’’ he added.

Mr Coveney said he wanted a central database to know how many dogs there were in the country. “Accordingly, if there is a case of a stray dog, or one which has suffered cruelty or was abandoned, we can then establish who owned the dog and take appropriate action,’’ he added.

The link is here.

How will driverless cars change our cities?

From Issi Romem:

  • Cities will greatly expand, again: Faster and more efficient transportation will convert locations that are currently too remote for most users into feasible alternatives, abundant with space. Like suburban rail in the early twentieth century and the mass consumer automobile that followed, driverless cars will generate a gradual, but dramatic expansion of cities.
  • Buildings and parking will be uncoupled, freeing up valuable land: After dropping off passengers, driverless cars will independently seek parking (or their next car-share customers) and they will show up for the return ride at the tap of an app. As soon as driverless cars are common enough, the demand for adjacent parking will dwindle and parking lots in areas where land is sufficiently valuable will be ripe for conversion to other land use. As parking in high-value areas is thinned out or altogether purged, the micro-structure of cities will change – you guessed it – dramatically!

For the pointer I thank Josh Hausman.