Month: April 2016

Sunday assorted links

The new CEA report on incarceration and the criminal justice system

It offers many interesting facts and angles (pdf here).  Here is one instructive paragraph of note:

Relative to other factors, rising prison admission rates have been the most important contributor to the increase in incarceration. Raphael and Stoll (2013b) decompose the growth in the prison population into changes in crime rates, prison admissions and time served. If criminal justice policies remained the same as they were in 1984, State imprisonment rates would have actually 20 declined by 7 percent by 2004, given falling crime rates. Instead, State prison rates increased by over 125 percent. After accounting for falling crime rates, over two-thirds of this increase was attributable to rising prison admission rates, and 14 percent to increases in time served. In Federal prisons, longer sentences and rising admissions rates have been equally important, each accounting for approximately 20 percent of the growth in the Federal prison rate that is not due to changes in crime…

That is from pp.19-20.  Here is a related post from last year.

Libraries, piracy, and the socialist calculation debate

Balázs Bodó has a 2015 paper, “Libraries in the post-scarcity era,” here is the abstract:

In the digital era where, thanks to the ubiquity of electronic copies, the book is no longer a scarce resource, libraries find themselves in an extremely competitive environment. Several different actors are now in a position to provide low cost access to knowledge. One of these competitors are shadow libraries – piratical text collections which have now amassed electronic copies of millions of copyrighted works and provide access to them usually free of charge to anyone around the globe. While such shadow libraries are far from being universal, they are able to offer certain services better, to more people and under more favorable terms than most public or research libraries. This contribution offers insights into the development and the inner workings of one of the biggest scientific shadow libraries on the internet in order to understand what kind of library people create for themselves if they have the means and if they don’t have to abide by the legal, bureaucratic and economic constraints that libraries usually face. I argue that one of the many possible futures of the library is hidden in the shadows, and those who think of the future of libraries can learn a lot from book pirates of the 21st century about how users and readers expect texts in electronic form to be stored, organized and circulated.

Much of the paper focuses on what we learn from the competitive, digital, “guerrilla” libraries of Russia — most of all Aleph — with respect to what users really want; this is a striking and original piece.

For the pointer I thank Michael Rosenwald.

Markets in everything (hee)

SolidOpinion leaves the bulk of the comments section to operate as it always has, but it adds three slots at the top for “promoted comments,” which can be auctioned off to the highest bidder. Publishers have the option of using SolidOpinion’s software to moderate all their comments. The startup’s service is free to use, but it takes a cut of all cash transactions.

…Last year, Tablet magazine, a New York-based Jewish publication, started charging people to post any comment on its website. Readers can pay $2 a day, $18 a month, or $180 a year. Alana Newhouse, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, said she was sick of anonymous commenters haranguing her writers but wanted to leave an option for people willing to prove their good intentions by making what amounts to a donation.

The result has been far fewer comments, but Newhouse doesn’t mind.

Here is the Joshua Brustein Bloomberg story, no comments allowed.

The pointer is through Ted Gioia, don’t forget his new and excellent book How to Listen to Jazz.

How hard will it be to map the streets for self-driving cars?

Here is a very good point:

…the importance of maps to the self-driving market is another reason that car companies may struggle to remain market leaders as the industry shifts to fully autonomous technologies. Google, Apple, and Uber have a lot of experience collecting, analyzing, and distributing vast quantities of fast-changing geographic data. Ford, GM, and Toyota don’t.

The rest of the analysis by Timothy B. Lee is interesting as well.

Should Harvard pay out less?

Larry Summers says it is worth a rethink:

Former Harvard University President Lawrence Summers suggested that the school consider curbing annual payouts from its world-record $37.6 billion endowment to reflect the likelihood of lower investment returns.

Real, or inflation-adjusted, short-term interest rates have been falling steadily since 1999 and are effectively projected by financial markets to be around zero percent in the long-run, Summers said in a presentation Friday to a National Bureau of Economic Research meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Harvard is based.

“If it makes sense for Harvard University to pay out 5 percent of its endowment in 1999 when the real interest rate was 4 percent, it’s really quite unlikely that it makes sense to pay out 5 percent of its endowment in 2016 when the real interest rate is zero,” said Summers, a former U.S. Treasury secretary who is now a professor at Harvard.

I’ve never had a good handle on what you might call “the welfare economics of endowments,” in part because I don’t think economists have a good theory of endowments period.

One normative view is that if g > r, funds should simply accumulate in the endowment, more or less indefinitely, to further maximize societal wealth.  The g > r condition might hold for Harvard, though it is hard to measure what the school’s borrowing rate consists of.  Arguably new money at the margin comes from donations rather than from loans or bond issues.

A second view is that inequality is bad, and institutions tend to become sluggish and excessively bureaucratic in the longer run.  Perhaps every now and then they should be required to “start afresh”; a’ la Jefferson: “every now and then higher education must be refreshed…” etc.  That would suggest a higher payout rate.  You will note that the law mandates a payout rate of five to six percent for charitable foundations; Harvard isn’t a foundation, but analogous factors might apply.

A third view is to note that income inequality has gone up, and that means higher returns from investing in Harvard students, even if overall rates of return in the economy are low.  We know that the variance of corporate returns is much higher than it used to be, and many of those successful corporations stem from Harvard, MIT, and Stanford, among other top schools.  That would suggest spending more money today, because the Harvard endowment may not always be so valuable in terms of the uses to which it can be put.  Low rates of return on (most) investments are more reason to follow this advice and keep on spending, not less reason.  Can you imagine a better investment these days than Harvard human capital?  You will note that in this view “keeping Harvard at the top,” while a goal, is not the number one consideration.

There is something to be said for all of these perspectives, but mine is closest to number three.  In any case the question deserves closer consideration than I see it receiving.

The advantages of being CEO?

Elizabeth Parrish, CEO of Bioviva USA Inc. has become the first human being to be successfully rejuvenated by gene therapy, after her own company’s experimental therapies reversed 20 years of normal telomere shortening.

Telomere score is calculated according to telomere length of white blood cells (T-lymphocytes). This result is based on the average T-lymphocyte telomere length compared to the American population at the same age range. The higher the telomere score, the “younger” the cells.

In September 2015, then 44 year-old CEO of BioViva USA Inc. Elizabeth Parrish received two of her own company’s experimental gene therapies: one to protect against loss of muscle mass with age, another to battle stem cell depletion responsible for diverse age-related diseases and infirmities.

Here is more, via Helen Greiner and @pmarca.

New edition of Tyler Cowen’s ethnic dining guide

Here is the one file, print it all out version, just revised.  Here is the blog version, which is easier to follow in bits and pieces, looks nicer, works better (thanks to the estimable Chug), and accepts comments.  Here are the links on Twitter.

The old trends were good hamburgers and pizza.  Those haven’t gone away, but the new area trends are Yemeni, Filipino, and more more more Chinese of many different kinds.  Good Mexican is on the way, finally.  Vietnamese and El Salvadoran are fine but stagnant.  Persian is growing, Ethiopian is robust, and will more African be next?  The biggest growth in quality and interest has come in DC (!), not the suburbs, at least this time around.  In Virginia, Chantilly has made the largest gains.

The good news, at least from a culinary point of view, is that the gentrification of northern Virginia — northern and central Arlington excepted — is proceeding at a much slower rate than people might have expected say ten years ago.

College socializes people into the mentality of the affluent

There is a paper on that theme (pdf) by Tali Mendelberg, Katherine T.McCabe, and Adam Thal, here is the abstract:

Affluent Americans support more conservative economic policies than the non-­affluent, and government responds disproportionately to these views. Yet little is known about the emergence of these consequential views. We develop, test and find support for a theory of class cultural norms: these preferences are partly traceable to socialization that occurs on predominately affluent college campuses, especially those with norms of financial gain, and especially among socially embedded students. The economic views of the student’s cohort also matter, in part independently of affluence. We use a large panel dataset with a high response rate and more rigorous causal inference strategies than previous socialization studies. The affluent campus effect holds with matching, among students with limited school choice, and in a natural experiment, and passes placebo tests. College socialization partly explains why affluent Americans support economically conservative policies.

For the pointer I thank Nathaniel Bechhofer.  One implication is that left-wing, politically correct top private universities don’t actually turn out such left-wing individuals, all things considered.  You can think of their sillier college views as part of a broader life cycle, portfolio story.  I also take this to be further evidence of just how much education is about socialization, rather than the explicit mastery of scholarly information.

Interview with Axel Leijohufvud

Conducted by Arjun Jayadev and Josh Maso, here is one bit:

John Hicks was a stammerer, and so when you had an ordinary conversation with him, every utterance started with uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh and sometimes was interminable. And then the answer would sort of burst forth rapid fire and then he would start all over again. But he was fond of poetry. When he was a student he had been the poetry editor for an Oxford student paper. He had memorized lots of poetry, including the whole fifth canto of the Divine Comedy in Italian. Now and then when you talked with him he would quote something, and that would flow perfect without stammering. Later on we were staying outside Sienna, and he would visit there regularly. At one point we were out with a bunch of students – it was the opportunity of their life
to sit and listen to Hicks. I brought up the poetry, and he explained it this way: He had trouble falling asleep. So the way he would get to sleep was he would set his mind to rehearsing or remembering one stanza of poetry for each century, starting in four or 500 B.C. And he gave some examples and then he said, but from the second to the ninth century there wasn’t much worth remembering.

And this:

I first met Hayek personally in Salzburg in 1975-­1976.  I met him several times after that at UCLA, Claremont, and Freiburg, and he was always gracious. He definitely was pleased by the
revival of interest in his work but, I believe, did not really want slavish followers.  In particular, I remember a pamphlet he had written for Institute of Economic Affairs in London on a currency reform proposal and I raised a theoretical objection to his proposal.  I remember walking with him to the UCLA Faculty Club for lunch and explaining what I thought was wrong.  He got quite worried and said he wanted to think more about it. I do not think he found a satisfactory answer and, as far as I can recall, he stopped promoting the proposal.

Leijonhufvud these days is somewhat of a neglected figure, but the interview has numerous points of interest.

Prince, R.I.P.

As all or most of you know by now, Prince has passed away.  I don’t listen to him nearly as much as I did in the eighties, but songs such as “When Doves Cry,” “Dirty Mind,” “Glam Slam,” “Starfish and Coffee,” and (most of all) the acoustic, CD-single version of “Seven” still stick in my mind, among others.  I think his “dirty little secret,” if you will forgive the pun, is that once you get past the first album he wasn’t much of a true Dionysian, but rather a playful polyglot who assumed various poses.  Most of all I was impressed by his urge to create, and how strong and how internal that drive seems to have been.

Thursday assorted links

Another reason why Harriet Tubman is a good pick

It is also an example of great achievements in light of a disability:

As a teenager, following a severe head injury—the result of her efforts to protect another slave—Tubman developed a lifelong, chronic condition, with debilitating symptoms that have been described as being similar to those of narcolepsy and temporal lobe epilepsy.

Here is that source.  Here are many other sources.

Now here’s the bad news: There is plenty in the media today about Tubman being female and black, but I haven’t seen a single story even mention this angle.  Will anyone cover it?  I hope so but I fear not.