Assorted links

1. Why are so few people breaking 115 years of age?

2. Insight into the bankless, and Jon Hilsenrath on Yellen’s management style.  People, I say it’s time to think twice on this one.  It’s showing multiple classic signs of “employee who should not be promoted.”

3. Was Bach a reformed teenage thug?

4. Diane Coyle reviews Joe Studwell’s How Asia Works.

5. Steve Teles on kludgeocracy in America.

6. Stanley Fischer opposes forward guidance from the Fed.  Let’s face it: right now we are living under pure monetary discretion.  From the article: “You can’t expect the Fed to spell out what it’s going to do,” Mr. Fischer said. “Why? Because it doesn’t know.”


I don't think that the Hilsenrath piece lays out a very good position on why Yellen would be a bad pick. While these may not be perfect management styles, they do not seem unacceptably bad. Also, the management component of the Fed Chairman is so much less important than its monetary policy component, which the piece praises her on her preparation for meetings.

I'm not completely sold on Yellen. I wouldn't mind considering somebody like Michael Woodford, and I never understood how this position got a shortlist with Summers and Yellen.

This is an understatement. There is exactly one source mentioned in that article who had anything bad to say about Yellen's management style and it seems that they clashed over a particular decision.

Also, from what I know, Fed Governors don't exactly do a whole lot of managing.

True. I don't see where the "employee who shouldn't be promoted" aspect is stated. There is only a quote from Dick Anderson. Cowen might possess additional anecdotes, but this story is fairly bland.

So what else do they do? Management is all they do, managing expectations, maintaining an illusion of control, omniscience and omnipotence.

The Fed Chair is head of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors which is a sizable organization and they are also loosely in control of the Federal Reserve System, which is a much larger organization. They are also a member of the Federal Open Market Committee, by which they engage in monetary policy through votes and pursuading fellow committee members towards their opinion. These are two types of management. Yes, they manage the currency with their fellow FOMC members, but there is also a practical management side. I'm just arguing that the FOMC part is much more important.

You seem to be confusing management and leadership. In many places the two jobs do go together, often with tragic results: What makes someone a good manager often makes them a terrible leader. Most organizations need both a Napoleon and a Berthier.

Read to me like classic signs of a woman getting dumped on because powerful men don't like getting told what to do by a woman.


Also it will be interesting to see if Obama throws her under the bus for yet another white male. Hope and change, or more of the same?

She is qualified for the job, so let's got on with it and end the uncertainty which simply hurts the economy.

Powerful men don't like getting told what to do by other men either, you know.

What about every marriage I've ever personally seen?

That would be more convincing if Yellen did not look like a classic case of a woman being promoted above her pay grade simply because she is a woman.

All the criticisms of her actually reconcile me to her appointment. She is there to make policy, not friends. She ought to ruffle feathers. Larry Summers would have been much worse. Who cares if she yells at staff? They get paid to be yelled at. As long as she delivers the goods.

The world economy is in trouble. We need the best person available to heead the Fed. Instead the Obama Administration is making an Affirmative Action hire. They even say as much: they do not focus on her competency but on how "ground breaking" it would be to have a woman head the Fed.


Most people get promoted until they fail. But the Obama Administration's record with female appointees is actually terrible. They fail and they fail big. Which suggests we are all going to suffer from Yellen's appointment.

The only thing Obama has said is he's looking at a longer list, yet you interpret his decision making on the press need for controversy and the interest groups attacks on and advocacy for certain candidates assumed to be on the list.

I'm guessing that one reason for not announcing a replacement for Bernanke is to both avoid undermining him by making him a lame duck, and also to leave open a renomination, or no nomination, if some crisis occurs and continuity seems wise. I'm guessing that Bernanke would continue on as chair if no nominee has been confirmed and he's willing to stay on.

And Republicans seem to be trying to trigger some financial/credit crisis this fall. How will the financial markets and credit system react to government shutdowns and even just a technical default on T-bills?

You should be aware that it's not self-evident to most of us that Obama's female appointees have done better or worse than the men, so your statement does not necessarily read the way you intend it.

Offhand I can count Solis, Sibelius, Sotomayor, Kagen, Napolitano, Rice, and Power, of which I've only heard negative things about Power (and can't remember what they were--some awkward public statement, I think).

And the definition of "failure" would have to be agreed on: for example, to most Republicans, increased environmental regulations are a failure.

"1. Why are so few people breaking 115 years of age?"

If not 115, there'll always be some x for which you can ask this question?

Sure. But the question is why x is stable. And what we can do about it.

The answer, from what I can tell, is that modern medicine is reducing premature death (by which I mean death prior to one's genetically determined maximum lifespan), but does nothing to address amyloidosis, which appears to be the limiting factor in human lifespan.

The future is unlikely to be as bleak as Ridley suggests. The human body has mechanisms for preventing the accumulation of amyloid proteins, but they fail with age, which is why amyloidosis is rarely seen in the young. My (only mildly educated) guess is that the solution will involve one or more of the following:
1. Finding an enzyme that clears away amyloid proteins and administering it intravenously, or using gene therapy to increase natural production.
2. Training the immune system to target amyloid proteins. There's been some proof-of-concept work on mice in this area.
3. Rejuvenating the immune system by replacing aging cells with stem cells and/or by clearing out hyperspecialized cells.
4. Upregulating autophagy.

Finding ways to clear out amyloid and other junk proteins is one of the key goals of the SENS foundation.

Amyloid accumulation is a prominent feature of the pathology of Alzheimer's Disease, but it does not seem to be related to the cause of AD. The Amyloid Hypothesis has dominated research for over 20 years, and it has produced no useful results. Indeed, it has choked off other lines of research and retarded progress toward elucidating the etiology of AD. Even one of the strongest proponents of the Amyloid Hypothesis has begun to express doubts about its validity.

In animal models of AD, you can use amyloid antibodies to clear out the amyloid deposits, and that has no effect on cognitive performance. It's like forest fires and ashes. There's a high correlation between the occurrence of forest fires and ashes, but ashes do not cause forest fires. Lightning strikes and burning cigarette butts tossed from cars cause forest fires. Amyloid is like the ashes of the Alzheimer's Disease process.

Both the Amyloid Hypothesis and the Tau Hypothesis (accumulation of hyperphosphorylated tau protein) of AD begin with features of end-stage disease seen at autopsy and work backward from there. This was a reasonable approach 20 or 30 years ago, but it has produced no useful results. AD appears to begin 15 or 20 years before diagnosis, most likely by a mechanism that doesn't involve amyloid beta or hyperphosphorylated tau. A strong contender is endothelial dysfunction, but another mechanism such as insulin resistance in the brain may be the culprit. It's only now that we are beginning to emerge from the Amyloid Hypothesis Dark Age that these other possible mechanisms are getting more attention, though it will probably be many years yet before the stake is driven through the heart of the Amyloid Hypothesis. Too many researchers have dedicated their careers to the Amyloid Hypothesis, and it will sputter on until these people retire or die.

To some extent it depends on what your priors are. Is the technological improvement in longevity expected to be not asymptotic?

Yeah, you missed the point. It's not that there is some kind of horizon that nobody lives beyond, it's that the horizon isn't changing.

Like, fifty years ago, the median person could expect to live to, I don't know, maybe mid-seventies. But the very extreme of the elderly died between 105 and 120.

Today, the median person can probably expect to live to mid 80's or even mid 90's. Huge progress! Between 10 and 20 years of additional lifespan for the median! But the extreme of the elderly still die between 105 and 120.

Next question is, how much does that actually matter? My gut reaction is "not much," but I'm willing to be convinced otherwise.

It matters a lot if you are a singulatarian that expects endless progress in this area

How much does "it" matter to what or who?

I'm genuinely not sure what you're asking, but if you're saying, "Would it really be a big impact to anyone's life if the ultra-elderly were now 125 or 130 rather than 110 or 115," then it depends. If the answer is that a few people were now being kept in near-coma conditions of uselessness for another few years, then probably no.

If, on the other hand, people were living to be 125 or 130 because their entire aging process was attenuated or delayed so that not only did they live to 125, but they also were more like a 90 year old when they were 100, and more like an 80 year old when they were 90, and more like a 70 year old when they were 80, then that's a pretty big deal. Both economically and personally to the elderly person and those around them.

"So too are those who practise “caloric restriction” on the ground that mice live much longer if nearly starved. Such gaunt folk might get to 100 instead of 90, but they are not going to get to 120 by such means."

This is a joke of a statement. Obviously the guy is clueless about this science, so does he really know about the other things he speaks of? Calorie restriction with optimal nutrition extends MAXIMUM lifespan- it has been shown to do that in practically every animal tested, including primates.

I could easily be misinformed, as this is not something I follow closely, but I thought the primate results had been debunked and that it was no longer generally thought that calorie restriction would help humans.

Did you actually read the study you linked to? Yes there was one study showing no improvement but there are others that do show improvement. The devil is in the details, mainly the details of study design. As the abstract you link to says, "study design, husbandry and diet composition may strongly affect the life-prolonging effect of CR in a long-lived nonhuman primate." But no one was claiming otherwise.

No, just the abstract and some of the associated press a while ago.

Your comment is roughly in line with my memory. There was a failure-to-replicate study and then an explanation that the details of the experiment explained the supposed effect. I thought I pointed to the second of these two things.

Is there some sort of current summary or lit review you're aware of?

The idea from Mr Ridley is that in genes there is a "time bomb". Staying fit, not drinking too much and driving carefully may help you to get to the gene time bomb age, but no diet will take you beyond what's coded in your genes. For the Guinness record people the time bomb explodes at 110+, the record woman 122, but for some people it may come sooner. Going beyond that is genetic engineering territory, before that is habit's territory.

Nowadays, it is accepted that Usain Bolt is exceptional and that genes matter for speed. You can do all the training you want and you're not going to be as fast as this guy. Why can not be the same for reaching old age? I like training and being fit, but i'm not crazy (enough) to think I can win him a 100 meter race. Despite what parents, coaches and yoga instructors say, most of us are not exceptional. Be happy, smile often, enjoy life, maybe your genes say "self destroy at 80".


There has to be some actual mechanism for the death, it's not a magic "time bomb". If that really is his idea, he has no idea wtf he is talking about. You are just throwing out a crazy idea with no evidence. The reality is that the science shows there is a maximum lifespan for most species, but these maximum lifespans are extended by calorie restriction with optimal nutrition.

I once heard that Henry Ford would rummage through scrap heaps, looking for parts that held up well, then he relaxed the production specifications for those parts.

Natural selection practices a similar economy.

> Natural selection practices a similar economy.

There's nothing in humans derived from natural selection operating on 120 year-olds. The phenomena is too rare to matter and people don't breed at that age. What happens to you at 120 is an accidental consequence of a design optimized to make you breed between 15 and 25. If a time bomb at the age of 112 made you a little more efficient at 22, it would make sense to have it in humans.

I read what Brian wrote again and realized maybe I misread him. There's nothing in people to support living at 120. If there are resources that run out at that age, like telomere length, evolution would not fix the problem. It would be surprising if there _weren't_ a bunch of problems like this. For example, we never grow a third set of teeth. Technology lets us sidestep that one, but it's a hard cap on lifetime without it.

Nope, not magic. It was on the text: "Professor Coles has done 11 autopsies on supercentenarians and finds that most die of congestive heart failure secondary to systemic TTR amyloidosis, a thickening of the blood. The rest tend to inhale food particles and get pneumonia. It is not really clear why women live longer than men; probably something to do with their having a different cocktail of steroid hormones."

So, the answers from Dawkins is that we don't know why people don't go beyond 125. The educated guess from Ridley is that the unknown component in human death mechanism is related to genes. I admit that Ridley is little bit of a troll like Dawkins. Instead of honestly saying "we don't know", he goes into neglecting the calorie restriction hypothesis. It is not quite scientifically rigorous to use your educated guess to say other people is stupid. But admitting Dawkins is not right does not make the other hypothesis right. This is not a political debate =)

In the end the impact of Dawkins text depends on who you are and what you think. Today, the matter is far for being settled for researchers while believers have already found their own truth. Best regards.

The claim is that there has been a dramatic increase in the over 100 year old group but virtually none in the over 110 group (it may even be contracting). Maybe the statistics have to be manipulated correctly, but this is a very interesting result on its own - far more interesting than your comment acknowledges.

This is indeed an interesting question, but Ridley does very little to address whether the change is statistically significant or not. There are very few 110 year olds and the process to produce them is highly noisy since it's essentially a binomial distribution with a huge N and a very small p. Plus there's a lot of measurement error in the problem since a lot of people that old don't have birth certificates, pension fraud, etc.

It seems more likely to me that longevity is rising across the board and the record holders are noisily varying, as record holders tend to do in all large samples. The Ridley hypothesis of rising 100 longevity and falling 110 longevity would require a more complex and less likely mechanism to explain it. Although off the top of my head it seems possible that we're reaching a point where are centenarians would have been still young and growing during the Great Depression and fighting age during World War II.

Agree. Why is it surprising that the fatter part of a distribution increased more than the thin tail?

The article seems to talk more in absolute numbers not normalized to where on the distribution they lie.

The real answer is that there is a conspiracy against the respective title-holder of "oldest living person in the world": Have you noticed how often and soon these people die, just months after gaining the title? No other group of world record holders lives so dangerously.

Avoiding a premature death is not equal to living longer? So, avoiding death before 80-90 depends on your habits (not smoking a pack a day), living beyond 100 depends (almost) exclusively on what's on your genes, interesting, really interesting. This model can explain all those stories about super healthy grandpa feasting on bacon at 100+ years old. Your grandpa was a winner in the gene lottery, the rest of us can also enjoy lard.....but with moderation.

Woodford hasn't shown interest in the position. I think he prefers to be the central banker of central bankers and advise everyone rather than run any specific CB. He may be the most powerful person in the world that no one has ever heard.

The Yellen article contained quotes from people jockeying for position and therefore praising her or people that were retired and could therefore speak the truth. They did not praise her. I am glad I don't work at the Fed.

The article on people living to very old ages is fascinating. This sentence especially pops out, "That leaves just two men in the world known to be over 110, compared with 58 women (19 of whom are Japanese, 20 American). By contrast there are now half a million people over 100, and the number is growing at 7 per cent a year."

The matriarchy strikes again?

Keith, the Fed's actually a great place to work, albeit challenging. The Board is the only federal agency that is primarily run by economists, who make up most of the managers and we've got hundreds of PhD economists as staff in the research divisions. I know TC's charming social graces, as seen in this very post, might lead you astray but economists are not generally warm and fuzzy in our professional debates. I have immense respect for Chairman Bernanke's character and judgment but I would not dream of presenting a poorly identified regression or shoddy analysis to him (as he smiles less at such times). There are high standards at the Fed (as there should be) and sadly given the economy, high stress ... and then well we're economists. I won't weigh in further on #2b or #6 but will say there's plenty of room to debate.

Fischer seems to get it. The big mistake the Fed has made with QE3 is they've talked way too specifically about what policy levers they're going to pull (why specify exactly how many bonds you're going to buy?), and not specifically enough about what it is they're trying to achieve. And as a result they keep missing their own forecasts. If you're trying to set expectations, what you want to tell people is the destination and the arrival time, not the flight plan.

Oh No! Yellen ruffled the feathers of a group of mid-level bureaucrats who collectively failed to do anything useful as the Fed botched the biggest economic catastrophe to hit the country since the 1929.

What an absurd article and what absurd reactions (the comments above, which either cryptically warn of disaster, take one side with no support, or reduce everything to gender war... likewise, with no real support).

Maybe she'll be a crummy Fed chair, and maybe you all will deserve one.

I am trying to figure out which of your descriptions fit my comment. I guess it is the "take one side with no support"? My support is the article itself paired with the common human trait of not upsetting someone you might have to work with. I don't support any side, I am just reading the article.

But Keith,
1. The article doesn't fit your description of it. Of the people that no longer have to work with her, one praised her (Blinder) and one didn't (Anderson). The unnamed sources of "current and former staff members" don't say anything intelligible.

2. It's also a common human trait for mid-level bureaucrats to try and torpedo people they don't like, and it's a common human trait for former employees to want to air any grievance.

3. It's also a common human trait for articles written by humans to go to great lengths to show "both sides" of a story as relatively equal even if they're not. This article, in particular reads like that. I mean, if you really want me to pick apart the article and show how most every word is part of a nonsense filler statement, I can, but I think if you read critically, you can see it yourself. It really gets to the point that:

4. I know almost nothing now that I didn't know before the article.
A. Yellen is a Fed careerist. She's managed to work and play well enough with others to last 20+ years there, while steadily advancing.
B. There are two folks on record on her. Blinder likes her. Anderson doesn't. I've never heard of Anderson, so I don't know how to weight his opinion. He seems to have lasted Not very long. Blinder is fairly distinguished mainstream economist.

So... I just don't see much compelling. here on Yellen, but what really bugs me is that I see very little compelling about the article. If this qualifies as a blogworthy piece, it's only to underscore the reality that we're basically just flying blind.

Dick Anderson may have experienced the "Mad Men" style bullying personality, but there is reason to be skeptical of his testimony. Such personalities leave lots of evidence, even when people goose step around the issue, or try to frame it as a virtue.

Strangely, prior to Summers' resignation, one of the knocks against Yellen was that she was too weak to push forward unusual policy.

The only criticisms of Yellen in the article are (1) "brief stint" COO Dick Anderson, whose spending plan she apparently shot down, says she is intimidating and abrasive; (2) she has been a "polarizing figure among some Fed staff members" for unexplained reasons; (3) she "ruffled feathers" in the monetary-affairs group, according to "several people." If this is the best her enemies can come up with, I'm convinced she should be nominated.

About there being fewer of The Old than you might expect.

The Bach article discussed problems at his school, but little about Bach specifically other than that he missed a lot of days.

Yeah, the article is more of a description of a portion of German society than a picture of Bach himself. And even if he was part of this milieu, how much bearing does it have on his personality and talent?

The longevity post was interesting, one part I'd take issue with (no comments over there):

"Ethically, however, such a step in human beings is unthinkable, since it would mean altering the genes of an unborn child without asking his or her permission."

*Conceiving* is doing that, eating while pregnant is doing that, being in any environmental at all while pregnant is doing that. There's nothing "special" about this from an ethical perspective. I'm opposed to reproduction on consent theory grounds, so I don't think you should do it at all, but if you're going to do it, messing with some variables is hardly the ethical dilemma he makes it out to be.

Ethically, however, such a step in human beings is unthinkable, since it would mean altering the genes of an unborn child without asking his or her permission. It is hard to imagine any government allowing such an experiment, with a high probability of unexpected consequences, let alone anybody finding a team of scientists prepared to do it.

Matt lacks imagination. I can think of may gov'ts that would not only allow but encourage such experimentation. Not to mention a whole lot of rich non-state actors who would try as well.

There will be a lot of "easier to ask forgiveness than permission" going on here.

There is technology to turn on genes once maturity is reached, but the regulatory hurdle for them is going to be epsilon-smaller than the hurdle for just implanting the genes in the kid.

Ethically unthinkable, since it would mean altering the genes of an unborn child "without asking his or her permission"? Hard to imagine any government allowing such an experiment? Hard to imagine finding a team of scientists prepared to do it? Doesn't the benighted author know there's an entire government-protected abortion industry in this country, staffed with thousands of scientists (MDs) who are prepared to **kill** an unborn child without asking his or her permission?

5: Call it what it is. A kleptocracy. In the first paragraph he states that it ends up enriching the well off while taking from those less well off. Does this fellow think that other countries where this has occurred was by design or some kind of evil mastermind? Power accrues to the powerful unless there is a limiting force that prevents it.

1. I wonder if improved record keeping has any effect? There were and are incentives for people to overstate their age and so the ages of the extremely old may have been artificially bumped up in the past and so the maximum age has increased. Of course it's obvious that things go wrong as people age and there may well be a cluster of wrongness that makes it extremely difficult for anyone to live past 115 even if the maximum age is higher now than in the past.

You mean like in Japan where the record keeping was done by politicians who had little reason to report deaths of the elderly because special aid to local government was based on census tallies. It seems like researchers tried to track down all those over age 110 and they had died years ago. They do have a lot of elderly in Japan so something is going on, especially when WWII and the nukes are considered.

We have Amadeus and Immortal Beloved, hopefully this new Bach stuff will prove fodder enough for a great Bach movie

In his press conference Bernanke was asked about his personal plans and he refused to answer or make any comments.

That struck me as unusual and I have been surprised that the press has completely ignored it.

5. Teles should read Joseph Tainter's "The Collapse of Complex Societies". There ain't no remedy for bureaucratic metastasis.

I checked LinkedIn to look for Tyler's management experience, and he has...none listed. Lacking any reason to trust his skills around management and employees, perhaps a sentence or two is called for to back up the opinion about Yellen.

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