Month: May 2015
GiveDirectly, the non-profit started by economists that gives money directly to the poor in the developing world, has grown tremendously in recent years and Bill Gross, the billionaire bond investor and now major philanthropist, just announced that he is interested in the model:
More recently, Gross said he’s taken an interest in GiveDirectly, an organization that makes targeted donations via mobile payments to the extremely poor in Africa.
“Most Africans have cell phones, which is hard to believe,” Gross said in the interview. “So if you can do that and contribute $25 or $50 to someone in Uganda that of course you haven’t met, that’s almost as good as outperforming the market.”
It’s exciting to see randomized trials, measurement and data science applied to philanthropy. Groups like GiveDirectly, GiveWell and The Center for Effective Altruism are creating a new culture of giving, they are making Nerd Altruism cool. We have a long way to go but it says something when billionaires are mocked for giving millions to Yale. In contrast, entrepreneurs like Dustin Moskovitz, Elon Musk and Bill Gates are making it cool to evaluate charities with the same rigor that business people use to evaluate business investments.
Here’s an interview with Paul Niehaus, one of the founders of GiveDirectly.
One of the perennial worries about immigration, especially from libertarian/conservative types, is that it will corrode the foundations of a free society. Using the Economic Freedom of the World Index, Clark, Lawson, Nowrasteh, Powell, and Murphy find no evidence for this fear. Countries that accept more immigrants tend if anything to grow in economic freedom:
The economics literature generally finds a positive, but small, gain in income to native-born populations from immigrants and potentially large gains in world incomes. But immigrants can also impact a recipient nation’s institutions. A growing empirical literature supports the importance of strong private property rights, a rule of law, and an environment of economic freedom for promoting long-run prosperity. But little is known about how immigration impacts these institutions. This paper empirically examines how immigration impacts a nation’s policies and institutions. We find no evidence of negative and some evidence of positive impacts in institutional quality as a result of immigration.
Bryan Caplan considers this question in a very useful blog post. He serves up these hypotheses, though I think without committing to any particular one of them:
1. Despite their rarity and absence on the front lines of politics, self-conscious libertarians still strongly shape mainstream conservative politicians’ economic policies.
2. Self-conscious libertarians, though rare, have still managed to sharply shift public opinion in a libertarian direction.
3. Self-conscious libertarians, though politically impotent, are a symbol of what’s wrong with American politics.
And then there are the stories the critics won’t embrace, but perhaps they’re true nonetheless…
4. Libertarians, unlike mainstream conservatives, openly defend many unpopular views. Intellectuals who want to loudly champion popular views have to engage libertarians because there’s hardly anyone else to argue with.
5. Libertarian arguments, though mistaken, are consistently clever enough to get under the critics’ skin. The purpose of the criticism is not shielding the world from bad ideas but giving the critics some intellectual catharsis.
6. Libertarian arguments are good enough to weigh on the critics’ intellectual consciences. They attack libertarians to convince themselves that we’re wrong. And they keep attacking us because they keep failing to fully convince themselves.
But I see more options. Consider a simple model where bureaucracies maximize output, and try to produce correct output. In my view, the more mainstream thinkers criticize libertarians so much because a) it helps them generate output, and b) they think they have the better arguments. There is a clear target, easily explained (not always correctly explained, however), and very often the target can be taken on with a minimum of detailed empirical investigation. Furthermore the arguments against the libertarian often position the critic in a favorable ideological space, especially for left-wingers: “look, there are people who believe this, better come ally with me!”
If we are talking about “The Left,” the libertarian is about the most welcome intellectual opponent there is. The real scourge, correctly or not, is the common sense morality of the center. That’s right, the people who favor and distrust big government at the same time, the people who think the poor deserve welfare support but only so much, the people who distrust intellectual elites and cosmopolitanism, the people who side with police more than they ought to, and yes the people who think Medicare is more based on just deserts than is Medicaid.
That set of views does not describe me well, but the funny thing is — unlike with both far left and libertarian ideas — we do in fact know you can build a workable polity from them. The libertarians are so much more of a tempting opponent.
Wealthy Hindu temples such as this one are repositories for much of the $1 trillion worth of privately held gold in India — about 22,000 tons, according to an estimate from the World Gold Council. In 2011, one temple in south India was found to have more than $22 billion in gold hidden away in locked rooms rumored to be filled with snakes. Another has enough gold to rival the riches stashed at the Vatican, experts say.
There is more here, the main theme of the article is that some are calling for the gold reserves to be mobilized, a running theme in economic debate since Keynes and earlier in the nineteenth century as well.
1. “Why don’t they come?” It’s not what they like, I would say, plus they are worse at planning and time management, and they enjoy TV more. “Why should they go?” is maybe a better question than “Why don’t they come?”
I thought so at first, upon seeing the election results with strong SNP dominance. But upon further consideration, I’ve changed my mind. Here’s why:
1. A ruling British government simply doesn’t have to allow another referendum. Or they can time a referendum in a favorable manner, or insist on more favorable conditions the next time around, such as allowing Scots who live in England to vote.
2. Independence advocates realize that if a referendum fails a second time around, they will never get a third chance. So they will hesitate before moving forward again.
3. Holding 56 out of 59 seats is a pretty sweet lock for SNP. There will be a temptation to settle for the current form of electoral competition, rather than face a newly competitive Scottish national politics, or face being the backers of another failed referendum.
4. For many Scots, voting for SNP may be a substitute for independence (“we want to be as Scottish as possible, except…and who better to safeguard that Scots heritage politically?”) rather than a path toward independence. SNP itself stressed that a vote for SNP was not a vote for independence, and every now and then, believe it or not, political parties should be taken at their word.
Arguably Brexit could prompt a quick and strong desire to secede, but otherwise I am betting on the Union to continue.
She has been my most significant musical discovery of the last year, and these days it is rare when I find something new in music which truly surprises me.
Dave Gelly put it this way:
At the Queen Elizabeth Hall, I found myself listening open-mouthed to a Russian woman playing the piano accordion while making wordless vocal sounds into a microphone. Her name was Evelina Petrova and the sounds varied from whoops and bird-like twitterings to a kind of demented lamentation. God knows what it was all about, but it had me transfixed.
What could sound less appealing than Russian accordion music? I say imagine the devilish imp which sometimes runs around Stravinsky’s borrowings from Russian folk music, hook it up to an accordion, and pinch it repeatedly and irregularly.
Here is a good, descriptive review of her first album. Here is her home page. Here is a YouTube duet with piano, good but I prefer her solo. Try this solo clip for her dirge side. Here is another good (and more lively) solo clip. Her CDs are on Amazon here, buy Living Water if you only get one.
She also has collaborated with Jethro Tull, or so I am told.
Here is a Schneier on Security post in toto, I won’t indent it once again:
Expertise literature in mainstream cognitive psychology is rarely applied to criminal behaviour. Yet, if closely scrutinised, examples of the characteristics of expertise can be identified in many studies examining the cognitive processes of offenders, especially regarding residential burglary. We evaluated two new methodologies that might improve our understanding of cognitive processing in offenders through empirically observing offending behaviour and decision-making in a free-responding environment. We tested hypotheses regarding expertise in burglars in a small, exploratory study observing the behaviour of ‘expert’ offenders (ex-burglars) and novices (students) in a real and in a simulated environment. Both samples undertook a mock burglary in a real house and in a simulated house on a computer. Both environments elicited notably different behaviours between the experts and the novices with experts demonstrating superior skill. This was seen in: more time spent in high value areas; fewer and more valuable items stolen; and more systematic routes taken around the environments. The findings are encouraging and provide support for the development of these observational methods to examine offender cognitive processing and behaviour.
The lead researcher calls this “dysfunctional expertise,” but I disagree. It’s expertise.
Claire Nee, a researcher at the University of Portsmouth in the U.K., has been studying burglary and other crime for over 20 years. Nee says that the low clearance rate means that burglars often remain active, and some will even gain expertise in the crime. As with any job, practice results in skills. “By interviewing burglars over a number of years we’ve discovered that their thought processes become like experts in any field, that is they learn to automatically pick up cues in the environment that signify a successful burglary without even being aware of it. We call it ‘dysfunctional expertise,'” explains Nee.
See also this paper.”
The pointer is from the estimable Chug.
Most southern states have fewer breweries per population than the rest of the country. This paper examines why. The main outcome is that in the South, the number of breweries is negatively associated with higher campaign contributions from big breweries, the number of beer distributors per capita, and the Southern Baptist adherence rate. In the non-South, these associations are insignificant or positive. The limited number of breweries in the South follows the idea of bootleggers and Baptists where those who gain economically from limited competition—large breweries and distributors—side with groups morally opposed to alcohol to keep breweries out.
The pointer is from the excellent Kevin Lewis.
7. China: Through the Looking Glass is one of the most revelatory exhibits I have seen, at the Met in NYC, a must-see.
NBC: A poker showdown between professional players and an artificial intelligence program has ended with a slim victory for the humans — so slim, in fact, that the scientists running the show said it’s effectively a tie .The event began two weeks ago, as the four pros — Bjorn Li, Doug Polk, Dong Kim and Jason Les — settled down at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh to play a total of 80,000 hands of Heads-Up, No-Limit Texas Hold ’em with Claudico, a poker-playing bot made by Carnegie Mellon University computer science researchers.
…No actual money was being bet — the dollar amount was more of a running scoreboard, and at the end the humans were up a total of $732,713 (they will share a $100,000 purse based on their virtual winnings). That sounds like a lot, but over 80,000 hands and $170 million of virtual money being bet, three-quarters of a million bucks is pretty much a rounding error, the experimenters said, and can’t be considered a statistically significant victory.
The computer bluffed and bet against the best poker players the world has ever known and over 80,000 hands the humans were not able to discover an exploitable flaw in the computer’s strategy. Thus, a significant win for the computer. Moreover, the computers will get better at a faster pace than the humans.
In my post on opaque intelligence I said that algorithms were becoming so sophisticated that we humans can’t really understand what they are doing, quipping that “any sufficiently advanced logic is indistinguishable from stupidity.” We see hints of that here:
“There are spots where it plays well and others where I just don’t understand it,” Polk said in a Carnegie Mellon news release….”Betting $19,000 to win a $700 pot just isn’t something that a person would do,” Polk continued.
Polk’s careful wording–he doesn’t say the computer’s strategy was wrong but that it was inhuman and beyond his understanding–is a telling indicator of respect.
The University of Toronto’s commercialization office states that it is “in a class with the likes of MIT and Stanford.” But Stanford has generated $1.3-billion (U.S.) in royalties for itself and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology issued 288 U.S. patents last year alone; U of T generates annual licensed IP income of less than $3-million (Canadian) and averages eight U.S. patents a year. Statistics Canada reports that in 2009, just $10-million was netted by all Canadian universities for their licences and IP. Even when accounting for universities that have open IP policies, this is a trivial amount by global standards.
It is basically statist vs. classical liberal, and it is strongly uni-dimensional. Those are the main lessons from a new and interesting paper by Jennifer Pan and Yiqing Xu:
We offer the first large scale empirical analysis of ideology in contemporary China to determine whether individuals fall along a discernible and coherent ideological spectrum, and whether there are regional and inter-group variations in ideological orientation. Using principal component analysis (PCA) on a survey of 171,830 individuals, we identify one dominant ideological dimension in China. Individuals who are politically conservative, who emphasize the supremacy of the state and nationalism, are also likely to be economically conservative, supporting a return to socialism and state-control of the economy, and culturally conservative, supporting traditional, Confucian values. In contrast, political liberals, supportive of constitutional democracy and individual liberty, are also likely to be economic liberals who support market-oriented reform and social liberals who support modern science and values such as sexual freedom. This uni-dimensionality of ideology is robust to a wide variety of diagnostics and checks. Using post-stratification based on census data, we find a strong relationship between liberal orientation and modernization — provinces with higher levels of economic development, trade openness, urbanization are more liberal than their poor, rural counterparts, and individuals with higher levels of education and income and more liberal than their less educated and lower-income peers.
The Vangardist, a German men’s magazine, is printing an entire issue using HIV-infected blood in a quest to educate the public and eliminate misconceptions about HIV and AIDS.
Of course, there’s also the issue of taking this approach to raise the magazine’s literary and commercial value. The Vangardist‘s May issue is already being considered a collector’s item since just 3,000 copies featuring the HIV-positive ink blood have been printed.
There is further information here.
That is the recent book by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who has been held at Guantánamo for many years. This is a classic of prison literature, and I will teach it next year in my Law and Literature class. Almost every page is interesting:
It is just amazing that the FBI trusts the Jordanians more than the other American intelligence agencies.
I don’t know any other language that writes Colonel and pronounces it Kernel.
His written English is quite good. Definitely recommended, and the heavily redacted nature of the text enhances the reading experience rather than detracting from it. Here is a good review from The Guardian.