Assorted links

1. Six signs you are reading good criticisms of economics.

2. John McDermott at the FT has a new blog.

3. More strange results from quantum mechanics.

4. I don’t usually enjoy political books, but Peter Baker’s Days of Fire, on the Bush-Cheney relationship, is excellent.

5. Further signs that Indian agricultural productivity is improving.  This radically under-covered story is one of the most important of our time.


How can a story about agriculture be "radically" under-reported? Not reporting stories about agriculture is the norm, reporting on it would be the radical move.

Yes, I'm way more interested in the possibility Ug99 will cause global famine. You don't hear much about that.

If I were an anti-American terrorist, this is the weapon I would choose. A backpack full of spores (weaponized using fumed silica to enhance dispersion, of course) and a bicycle trip across the wheat belt would do it.

In addition to Ug99 (African wheat rust), there are two fungus diseases in banana and coffee that at present are spreading and cannot be cured. It's a race to find genetically resistant coffee and banana plants. In 20 years it's possible the world will run into shortages of these two crops because of these diseases.

"cannot be cured" seems strong.

Probably more like no cure found so far?

#1: If a headline implies an enumerated list, the probability is high that it is either inflammatory clickbait or a response to inflammatory clickbait.

You'd think. But in this case, you'd be wrong.

File this under "response to." The very first heterodox economics rant in this chain was charitably described as a "polemic" by Tyler.

#1: "When a criticism of economics actually identifies work of an academic economist and then seeks to pull it apart, that’s normally a good sign. If they quote Alan Greenspan, Ron Paul, Ayn Rand, a random McKinsey consultant or Jamie Dimon before tearing apart the current state of economics, its unlikely they understand the current state of economics."

I'm a bit dubious, if you want to understand, diagnose, or critique the state of my (STEM) field, academics would only be a (relatively small) part of the story. What makes economics different?

I believe he's saying "forget all those shysters who are setting national policy, critique a smaller set of unrecognized geniuses." (OK, a little harsh.) FWIW, I think the "economics" used in public debate is the important one to criticize.

#1: "Take the common critique that all economists assume that people are self-interested rational automatons. There is a mountain of work in economics that relaxes this assumption, and most non-economists (and a few economists) have almost no awareness of it."

Wow. So a "few" economists are *unaware* of economic theory that relaxes the assumption of homo economicus / Rational Man models? That does not speak well of the entire profession.

#5. The thesis of the article is that agricultural productivity is up because of labor shortages.

So then Tyler, why do we need need import labor surplus for American agriculture?

Probably because it makes the laborers better off and US consumers better off while not actively harming current Americans, given that virtually none are willing to do agricultural work - at least, that would be the moral imperative. Also, the US has harvested most of the gains that can be had from mechanization already, while India has not. We don't employ migrant workers to harvest our wheat or rice. We employ them to pick fruit or other fragile crops that are much less suitable for mechanized harvesting.

"We employ them to pick fruit or other fragile crops that are much less suitable for mechanized harvesting."

chicken and egg, though, right? Because we have very cheap labour, we have no machines that can do this work b/c making such a machine is more expensive than labour. However, were labour less expensive the tasks would readily be mechanized.

As an example, there are grapes in Champagne are now picked by machine. Those are some of the most valuable foodstuffs on earth.

I don't get this line of logic. Say, labor was suddenly super expensive. Sure we could build a fancy expensive machine to do whatever. Say repair cars. But how have we shown that that solution is better than the status quo?

No one says let's make labor super expensive so that car repair machines take over entirely. So why for mechanized agriculture?

The decision whether to automate makes sense or doesn't has to be based on the extant price of labor; not a artificially propped up scarcity price.

I don't think you understand the difference between viticulture and produce. Do you not realize that wine grapes are meant to be crushed?

You know what, that is a fair argument.

I don't think we've necessarily exhausted most of the gains from mechanization, if greenhouses are considered a form of mechanization.

What is the estimated progression of mechanization in agriculture over the next 20 years?

What is the estimated cost of a low wage agri worker and their family to the treasury over that same period? Or longer if you consider that children of rural immigrants from poor countries also significantly underperform at school.

#3: I used to take my car to a quantum mechanic. He would put my car in the garage without opening the door.

#3: Interferometry experiments are really very tricky. Very difficult to align correctly. Also, physicists don't understand spin degrees of freedom very well. Interesting experiment, though.

Yeah those Michelson interferometers are tricky. But I think the photon entanglement experiments are simply pointing to a faster than light form of communication, as yet undiscovered.

I meant if you were told to align an interferometer it would take you a long time and you would probably swear a lot while doing it.

Hmm, neither the linked article, nor the abstract of the paper make clear what is interesting. In general, no one is surprised that fringe visibility is lost if you screw around with the polarisation on either arm of an interferometer -- that's just classical optics. I expect the actual article has something more meaty inside, but I haven't looked yet.

I'm guessing, they were not changing the overall polarization, just rearranging it in each arm by randomly changing individual photon's polarization. I'm pretty sure you can't describe that classically.

Still no one expects wrongly polarised photons to interfere with each other. But you are right, that if you do enough single/correlated photon trickery, you can make it seam a lot weirder than that.

I'm no longer current on the atomic physics literature, having switched into space plasmas, but there was nothing about this article that struck me as particularly odd or surprising. I haven't read the actual publication yet, though.

I can definitely vouch for what a pain in the ass optics experiments are. One of the reasons I left the field is I decided I didn't want to spend my entire life hunched over a table, in the dark, turning knobs fractions of a millimeter for hours on end.

As I read it the point is actually easy. Imagine that you are doing famous double-slit experiment to prove so called "particle dualism". But you always get only one result all the time. Does it mean that quantum mechanics is wrong?

It actually means that your experiment is set up incorrectly. There is somebody messing around with photons in your experiment, some "man in the middle" that already makes photones decoherent. So you know that there was some "eavesdropping" - or to be more precise, photones from experimet had too much of an impact on the universe so they already decohered.

Just one additional comment - this does not seem to be so groundbreaking at all to me so maybe I am reading it wrongly. For instance we already know all in that article from quantum computers. We know that we need to protect electrons in quantum computers from decoherence (having any influence on the universe) in order for them to remain functional.

So as soon as you see that your quantum computer stops functioning you "know" that there is some "information leak" and that electrons were decohered. I am sorry to break it but this does not means possibility of FTL communication or other exciting issues. But I repeat that maybe I am reading it wrong and maybe this experiment revealed something fundamentaly new - besides practical application of how to detect evesdropping in optical media.

There is no great stagnation.

It's interesting that a labor shortage is causing Indian farmers to turn toward mechanization. In the U.S., labor shortages just lead to cries for more immigration.

#6 - How's their distribution efficiency doing? India lets huge chunks of their food rot.

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