Month: September 2013

Assorted links

A simple theory of recent American intellectual history

Throughout the 1970s and most of the 1980s, the so-called “right wing” was right about virtually everything on the economic front.  Most of all communism, but also inflation, taxes, (most of) deregulation, labor unions, and much more, noting that a big chunk of the right wing blew it on race and some other social issues.  The Friedmanite wing of the right nailed it on floating exchange rates.

Arguably the “rightness of the right” peaks around 1989, with the collapse of communism.  After that, the right wing starts to lose its way.

Up through that time, market-oriented economists have more interesting research, more innovative journals, and much else to their credit, culminating in the persona and career of Milton Friedman.

I’ve never heard tales of Paul Samuelson’s MIT colleagues mocking him for his pronouncements on Soviet economic growth.  I suspect they didn’t.

Starting in the early 1990s, the left wing is better equipped, more scholarly, and also more fun to read.  (What exactly turned them around?)  In the 1990s, the Quarterly Journal of Economics is suddenly more interesting and ultimately more influential than the Journal of Political Economy, even though the latter retained a higher academic ranking.  The right loses track of what its issues ought to be.  There is no real heir to the legacy of Milton Friedman.

The relative rise of the Left peaks in 2009, with the passage of Obamacare and the stimulus.  From that point on, the left wing, for better or worse, is a fundamentally conservative force in the intellectual arena.  It becomes reactive and loses some of its previous creativity.

Over those years, right wing thought, on the whole, became worse and more predictable and also less interesting.  But excess predictability now has infected the left wing also.  Attacking stupid ideas put forward by Republicans, whether or not you think that is desirable or necessary, has become their lazy man’s way forward and it is sapping their faculties.

Yet I am not pessimistic about discourse.  Our time is a wonderful era for independent thinkers, and many of them are bloggers, too.  It’s as if we have created a new political spectrum in a very small sliver of the world, a perhaps inconsequential eddy in a much larger and often unpleasant vortex.

The Political Legacy of American Slavery

That is a new paper (pdf) by Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell, and Maya Sen, here is the abstract:

We show that contemporary differences in political attitudes across counties in the American South trace their origins back to the influence of slavery’s
prevalence more than 150 years ago. Whites who currently live in Southern counties that had high shares of slaves population in 1860 are less likely to identify as Democrat, more likely to oppose affirmative action policies, and more likely to express racial resentment toward blacks. These results are robust to accounting for a variety of attributes, including contemporary shares of black population, urban-rural differences, and Civil War destruction. Moreover, the results strengthen when we instrument for the prevalence of slavery using measures of the agricultural suitability to grow cotton. To explain our results, we offer a theory in which political and racial attitudes were shaped historically by the incentives of Southern whites to propagate racist institutions and norms in areas like the “Black Belt” that had high shares of recently emancipated slaves in the decades after 1865. We argue that these attitudes have, to some degree, been passed down locally from one generation to the next.

The growing move to measure everything, including basketball

This time it is from the NBA:

The league on Thursday announced plans to install sophisticated tracking cameras, known as the SportVu system, in every arena for the coming season, creating an unprecedented treasure trove of data about virtually every wrinkle of the game. SportVu, developed by Stats LLC, records data points for all 10 players, the three referees and the ball, every 30th of a second, measuring speed, distance, player separation and ball possession. Every step, every dribble, every pass, every shot, every rebound — really, every movement — will be recorded, coded and categorized. … The N.B.A. is the first major professional sports league in the United States to fully adopt the SportVu system. It will have other implications for the league, far beyond the playbook and the box score. Not everyone might welcome the change. General managers will surely exploit the more sophisticated statistics when negotiating contracts with player agents. Not all assists, points and rebounds are created equal — and teams will soon be able to demonstrate that vividly. Referees are also tracked by SportVu, which means the league will have yet another tool to analyze every call, non-call and missed call as it ranks its officials. Those rankings help determine which referees are chosen for playoff assignments and the finals.

There is yet further information here.  One prediction is simply that players will pass the ball more, even when it does not result in an assist.  Team defense will improve too.  Furthermore some injuries may be partially forecastable and thus preventable.  If applied at the college level, the efficiency of the draft will improve and this will help restore competitive parity.  Truly injured or otherwise disadvantaged players may lose some insurance value, since it may be clear earlier on they are not going to recover or improve.

Sentences to ponder

From Nemo:

As the economy moves to cheap, scalable hardware production and the only things that are scarce are good ideas (technology, design) and human attention (clicks, impressions, brands) the whole mindset of growth driven capitalism in Asia is going to be in for a profoundly rude awakening. All those rentier assets will not be worth much anymore and the ability of the state or a couple of tycoons to control the commanding heights of an economy will be profoundly impaired by the lack of commanding heights more than anything else. Even more terrifyingly the prevailing model of intermediated financial markets with commercial banks front and centre will create incredible risks as banks do what they did previously and lend to capital intensive “stuff” businesses that do not generate much value. We may at some point develop wants and desires that are capital and credit intensive – the colonization of space perhaps – but it is a long way off just yet.

Overall the post is about “the decline of stuff,” and the source was retweeted by Izabella Kaminska.

The Japanese food transition

1. Peak “buckwheat noodle” came in 1914.

2. Peak horse meat came in the 1960s.

3. Peak whale meat came in 2005-2006, although some of that supply was frozen and has not yet been consumed.

4. The consumption of vegetables has been broadly constant for decades.

5. Yearly per capita pork consumption has risen from 1.1 kg in 1960 to 11.7 kg in 2008.  During the 1960s, the consumption of chicken meat nearly quintupled.

6. In 1876, per capita sake consumption was 17 liters per capita, which was very high for Japanese income at the time.  You can compare that to America’s 7 liters of ethanol per drinking age person in 1870.

7. Land area under cultivation peaked in 1921.  The United States and China, however, cultivated more land in 2000 than they did in 1900.

8. Japan’s paddy fields peaked in 1969.

9. In 2006 Japanese meat consumption edged out fish consumption for the first time.

All of those estimates are from a very interesting book by Vaclav Smil and Kazuhiko Kobayashi, Japan’s Dietary Transition and Its Impacts.

A change in culture or a failure of memory and a glorification of the past?

From Great Britain:

A bedtime story used to be a way for children and parents to bond at the end of the day, but the tradition has undergone a dramatic decline in a single generation.

A poll of 2,000 mothers with children aged 0-7 years, carried out by the clothing and homeware retailer Littlewoods, highlighted the extent of the change. Only 64% of respondents said they read their children bedtime stories, even though 91% were themselves read bedtime stories when young.

The survey also found that in previous generations, parents who read bedtime stories did so more regularly than their modern counterparts. Only 13% of respondents read a story to their children every night, but 75% recall being read to every night when they were kids. On average, today’s parents read bedtime stories to their children three times a week.

The findings are all the more surprising since 87% of those polled believe that bedtime reading is vital to children’s education and development.

The poll discovered that 9% feel “too stressed” to read bedtime stories; 13% admit that they haven’t enough time.

There is more here.

Not From the Onion, No Really, *Not* From the Onion

CBS News uncovers a frightening new trend, unregulated dinner parties:

As you sit down to dinner, this story illustrates eating out like you have never experienced before. We are talking about super-secret, illegal dining experiences hosted in homes.

CBS 2 investigative reporter Tamara Leitner went undercover to see firsthand how this underground world works.

It may look like a dinner party, but it’s really an underground supper club.

The diners are a mix of New Yorkers and tourists. CBS 2’s undercover cameras captured one experience — eight people who didn’t know each other eating a meal in a stranger’s home.

Horrifying. CBS, however, missed an even bigger story. It’s one thing when adults subject themselves to danger but surely even libertarians with their heads stuck in the 19th century must recognize that it is something else again when the least powerful among us are subject to these same dangers without their consent. Intrepid economist Art Carden has the story of abuse and shame that has remained hidden for too long:

…children–children, mind you–are being fed food that’s prepared in unregulated, uninspected, and possibly less-than-sanitary conditions.

Martian Terroir (there is no great stagnation)

Earlier this summer, Carlos Monleon-Gendall, exhibiting as part of the always-intriguing Royal College of Art Design Interactionsend-of-year show, explored the process of wine-making as if on Mars.

In his specially designed growth chamber, a lonely vine, from a species chosen for its cold tolerance, sends its roots down into a Martian soil analogue (a hand-pulverised mix of volcanic rocks and glasses as well as ferromagnesia clays), while extending its leaves toward a Martian sun.

Monleon-Gendall’s Martian micro-environment accurately simulates UVA and UVB radiation levels as well as seasonal shifts in the red planet’s sunset and sunrise by using a NASA app developed by the scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. (“UVC radiation is not modeled for human health and safety reasons,” the narrator of his project video intones, reassuringly.)

There is more of interest at the link, and this seems to be the bottom line:

Such a vocabulary will help with the palate re-training necessary in order to achieve the project’s goal: to help humans “acquire a taste for other planets.”

The “markets in everything” angle is this:

To help humans catch up to his prickly, potato pioneers, Keats also sold bottles of Martian mineral water.

“The minerals, including pyroxene and ulvospinel and pigeonite, will be used by your body to make bone and tissue,” Keats explained toWired. “Exploring Mars in this way, you’ll start to go native.”

From Nicola, here is more, with good photos, and for the pointer I thank Walter Olson.

Can persistent wage stickiness be the problem?

Stephen Williamson writes:

What about wage stickiness? That’s certainly important in the Keynesian narrative, though New Keynesians tend to think more about sticky prices. Suppose, for the sake of argument that a particular worker’s wage had been stuck at its pre-financial crisis nominal level until now. How much would that worker’s wage have declined in real terms by mid-2013? The answer depends on when the worker’s wage became stuck. If it was in January 2007, the decline would be 12% (using pce inflation); if in December 2007, 9%; and if when Lehman went down, 6%. That’s large in any case, and that’s with zero adjustment over 5 or 6 years. You think wage stickiness matters over that length of time, or that wage stickiness somehow explains the drop in employment we saw in the construction sector? I don’t think so.

Don’t forget that nominal gdp is now well above its pre-crash peak (some sticky wage theorists are morphing into “the stickiness is that almost everyone has to get a two percent raise each year,” a very different proposition than downward stickiness at the zero point and one with much less evidence behind it).

There are several other interesting observations in the piece.  I don’t completely agree with this set of points (for one thing I don’t view TFP and investment as so readily separable), but they are nonetheless worth a ponder:

Probably the most important feature of the data in the two charts is the difference in the behavior of investment. In 1981-82, investment declines by about 12% from the first observation, then rebounds significantly, to the extent that it grew more than consumption and output by mid-1983. In the last recession, investment declined by more than 30% from the beginning of 2007 to mid-2009, and in second quarter 2013 was still about 5% lower than in first quarter 2007. Thus, if there is something we should be focusing on, it’s not multipliers and consumption, but why investment is so low. That low level of investment, over a five year period, has now had a significant cumulative effect on the capital stock. Thus, we’ve got OK growth in TFP, but growth in factor inputs is low. That’s the key story, from a growth accounting point of view.

You should not, by the way, think I have changed my mind on monetary policy.  The “nominalist” approach was absolutely correct for 2008-2009, it is simply becoming less correct as time passes, which is exactly what standard economic theory suggests.

Arnold Kling reviews *Average is Over*

The review is here, here is one excerpt:

For me, the most interesting chapter was the one on education. Tyler points out that the content-supplying and testing/grading functions of a professor can be automated relatively easily. The main role for humans is to supply motivation, coaching, and inspiration. I am reminded of an experiment in India in which grandmothers with no subject-matter knowledge are recruited to encourage young children to learn by praising their work.

Assorted links

Can the Internet of Everything bring back the High-Growth Economy?

That is the new paper by Michael Mandel, interesting throughout, here is one excerpt:

…we estimate that the Internet of Everything could raise the level of U.S. gross domestic product by 2%-5% by 2025. This gain from the IoE, if realized, would boost the annual U.S. GDP growth rate by 0.2-0.4 percentage points over this period, bringing growth closer to 3% per year. This would go a long way toward regaining the output—and jobs—lost in the Great Recession.

And what is the Internet of Everything?:

The Internet of Everything is about building up a new infrastructure that combines ubiquitous sensors and wireless connectivity in order to greatly expand the data collected about physical and economic activities; expanding ‘big data’ processing capabilities to make sense of all that new data; providing better ways for people to access that data in real-time; and creating new frameworks for real-time collaboration both within and across organizations.

Read the whole thing.