Month: March 2016

Wednesday assorted links

Why Buses and Other Things Should Be More Dangerous

Jeff Kaufman writes:

Buses are much safer than cars, by about a factor of 67 [1] but they’re not very popular. If you look at situations where people who can afford private transit take mass transit instead, speed is the main factor (ex: airplanes, subways). So we should look at ways to make buses faster so more people will ride them, even if this means making them somewhat more dangerous.

Here are some ideas, roughly in order from “we should definitely do this” to “this is crazy, but it would probably still reduce deaths overall when you take into account that more people would ride the bus”:

  • Don’t require buses to stop and open their doors at railroad crossings.
  • Allow the driver to start while someone is still at the front paying.
  • Allow buses to drive 25mph on the shoulder of the highway in traffic jams where the main lanes are averaging below 10mph.
  • Higher speed limits for buses. Lets say 15mph over.
  • Leave (city) bus doors open, allow people to get on and off any time at their own risk.

Other ideas?

Excellent recognition of tradeoffs. Pharmaceuticals should also be more dangerous.

Hat tip: Slate Star Codex.

How much do readers read?

On average, fewer than half of the books tested were finished by a majority of readers. Most readers typically give up on a book in the early chapters. Women tend to quit after 50 to 100 pages, men after 30 to 50. Only 5 percent of the books Jellybooks tested were completed by more than 75 percent of readers. Sixty percent of books fell into a range where 25 percent to 50 percent of test readers finished them. Business books have surprisingly low completion rates.

That is from Alexandra Alter and Karl Russell at the NYT.  There are good visuals at the link, and note this is data from ebooks, not physical copies.

Bargaining over babies

There are new results from Matthias Doepke and Fabian Kindermann, here is the upshot:

A policy that lowers the child care burden specifically on mothers can be more than twice as effective at increasing the fertility rate compared to a general child subsidy.

The most likely implication is that a lot of the fathers don’t help out with child care very much, and they don’t much mind the greater burden being borne by their wives.

Trump’s butler, those new service sector jobs bugler markets in everything

“You’re a Hispanic and you’re in here trimming the trees and everything, and a guy walks up and hands you a hundred dollars,” Mr. Senecal [the butler] said. “And they love him, not for that, they just love him.”

That is the report issued by Trump’s butler, who just loves him.  There is this:

Mr. Senecal knows how to stroke his ego and lift his spirits, like the time years ago he received an urgent warning from Mr. Trump’s soon-to-land plane that the mogul was in a sour mood. Mr. Senecal quickly hired a bugler to play “Hail to the Chief” as Mr. Trump stepped out of his limousine to enter Mar-a-Lago [the home].

And this:

More recently, Mar-a-Lago has set off controversy in the Republican primary, as Mr. Trump has been criticized by rivals for hiring employees from abroad to staff the club rather than relying on the local work force.

“There are a lot of Romanians, there’s a lot of South Africans, we have one Irishman,” Mr. Senecal said of the staff, before echoing Mr. Trump’s defense that locals shunned the short-term seasonal work. But he also added of the foreigners: “They’re so good. They are so professional. These local people,” he trailed off, making a disapproving face.

The Jason Horowitz NYT article is interesting throughout.

Sentences to ponder, MR fact of the day — who leaves on-line comments?

Americans who leave news comments, who read news comments, and who do neither are demographically distinct. News commenters are more male, have lower levels of education, and have lower incomes compared to those who read news comments.

That is from Dr. Natalie (Talia), Jomini Stroud, Cynthia Peacock, and Emily Van Duyn, via the excellent Laura Miller.

Comments are open on this one, people…

*American Amnesia*

That is the new book by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, and the subtitle is How the War on Government Led Us To Forget What Made America Prosper.  It is well written and will appeal to many people.  It is somewhat at variance with my own views, however.  Most of all I would challenge the premise of a “war on government,” at least a successful war.  How about a “Dunkirk on government”?

Most forms of regulation continue to rise, noting that the stock of regulatory law is rising, and increasingly constraining, even if the flow is steady or declining, which I believe it is not.  Government as a percentage of gdp is roughly constant, and since gdp is growing that means government is growing in absolute terms.  If at least some of government is public goods, government should not grow in proportion to population (e.g., the nuclear umbrella), so some of this percentage constancy is a kind of real increase.  Long-run trends are for more of the economy to flow into the relatively regulated, government-intensive area of health care, and so with population aging, government as a percentage of gdp is slated to go up.

You may or may not agree with all of that government, but who exactly is winning this war?

I would better characterize the authors’ complaints as old people winning a war against young people for control of government.  And I agree with much of what they have to say on this.  But then tales about extreme right-wingers (mostly failing right-wingers, I might add) are then injected into the narrative to make it seem that this is a successful war against government per se.

Will all of economic growth be absorbed into life extension?

That is the subject of the new JPE paper by Charles I. Jones, here is the abstract:

Some technologies save lives—new vaccines, new surgical techniques, safer highways. Others threaten lives—pollution, nuclear accidents, global warming, and the rapid global transmission of disease. How is growth theory altered when technologies involve life and death instead of just higher consumption? This paper shows that taking life into account has first-order consequences. Under standard preferences, the value of life may rise faster than consumption, leading society to value safety over consumption growth. As a result, the optimal rate of consumption growth may be substantially lower than what is feasible, in some cases falling all the way to zero.

It is a well-known stylized fact that the share of health care in gdp is generally rising…

Which is better?  A society with quite patient, very long-lived individuals with a static standard of living, or a society of people who die at eighty but manage to double living standards every generation?

Which would we choose?

Addendum: Here is an earlier, “less gated” version of the paper.

Sentences to ponder

However, we find that economic conservatives are as or more scientifically literate and optimistic about science than economic leftists. Our results highlight the importance of separating different sub-dimensions of political orientation when studying the relationships between political beliefs, scientific literacy and optimism about science.

That is from Carl, Cofnis, and Woodley, via Ben Southwood.

Uber Increases Productivity

Uber drivers carry more passengers per mile driven or hour worked than do taxi drivers. In other words, the Uber system is more productive than the taxi system. That’s the big finding from a new paper by Judd Cramer and Alan B. Krueger.

On average, the capacity utilization rate is 30 percent higher for UberX drivers than taxi drivers when measured by time, and 50 percent higher when measured by miles, although taxi data are not available to calculate both measures for the same set of cities.

Four factors likely contribute to the higher utilization rate of UberX drivers: 1) Uber’s more efficient driver-passenger matching technology; 2) Uber’s larger scale, which supports faster matches; 3) inefficient taxi regulations; and 4) Uber’s flexible labor supply model and surge pricing, which more closely match supply with demand throughout the day.

Krueger co-authored an earlier paper on Uber drivers commissioned by Uber but this paper was not commissioned.

Monday assorted links

1. Hilary Putnam has passed away.  He was one of the two or three most interesting and engaging professors I have had.

2. An assfish is actually a kind of cusk-eel.  And it’s bony-eared.  This article offers much of interest: “Akanthos is Greek for “prickly,” and onus could either mean “hake, a relative of cod,” Hanke says, “or a donkey.”…Summers concurs, saying onus could easily read “as a homonym of the Greek word for ass.”  I’m not even going to tell you about the Halichoeres bivitattus, or the Galathea assfish, the abyssal assfish, and the robust assfish.

3. The twenty best Taiwanese movies?  By the way, Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day is being released soon on disc for the U.S. market.

4. Sean McElwee responds to me on whether Republican states are better run.  He does not note that I wrote: “I also am seeing signs that the Republicans are becoming less fit to govern at the local level, probably because national-level ideology is shaping too many smaller scale, ostensibly pragmatic decisions.”  The piece has other problems too.  Sean, Salon is not doing you a favor when it encourages you to write so hysterically.  There are plenty of good criticisms of Republican governance to be made.

5. Are we dying of history?

6. Is it possible to insult the dead, Neanderthal edition?

7. Russ Roberts interviews David Autor on China and labor markets.  Scott Sumner has asked a few times why Autor’s work is so important.  I think it shows that the economic footprint of China on the West is much larger than we had thought, not that free trade is bad.

The Los Angeles war against tiny homes

So far Summer has given out 37 tiny 6- by 8-foot houses, which cost $1,200 each to build. They resemble sheds, painted in bright, solid colors, with solar panels on the roof, wheels to make them mobile and a portable camping toilet.

But recently, city sanitation workers confiscated three of the houses from a sidewalk in South Los Angeles and tagged others for removal.

“Unfortunately, these structures are a safety hazard,” says Connie Llanos, a spokeswoman for LA Mayor Eric Garcetti. “These structures, some of the materials that were found in some of them, just the thought of folks having some of these things in a space so small, so confined, without the proper insulation, it really does put their lives in danger.”

Llanos says they’d be better off taking advantage of official resources like shelters or housing vouchers.


And this:

According to the latest count, 44,000 people live on the streets in and around LA. The city’s sweep put some people back on the sidewalks and since then Summers has been handing out tents instead.

Here is the NPR feature.  Perhaps there is a way to recognize and regularize a greater number of these structures?

Cashless Korea?

The Bank of Korea is planning a “cashless society” by 2020. If a shopper buys a 9,500 won item and pays with a 10,000 won banknote, for instance, the shopper will be credited 500 won to his or her prepaid card instead of getting a 500 won coin in change.

The trends are indeed lining up:

According to a central bank survey, Koreans carry on average 1.91 credit cards, 2.03 mobile cards and 1.26 check or debit cards. Four out of 10 picked credit cards as the means of payment they use most, up from three out of 10 the previous year. The ratio of those picking cash, meanwhile, continues to fall.

As Koreans are carrying less cash, with the average standing at 74,000 won last year, down 3,000 won from the previous year, the central bank is also issuing less cash. It released 12.3 percent fewer 10,000 won banknotes last year from the previous year, while the issuance of 5,000 won notes dipped 5.9 percent and 1,000 won bills 3.7 percent.

The country is also sufficiently non-diverse that such a transition could be made without leaving many people without means of payment, in contrast to say the Louisiana Bayou.

Here is the piece, via the always interesting Miles Kimball.  Here is a recent piece on cashless Sweden.