Month: September 2016

Shout it from the rooftops, Protestant Uber freedom edition

Our findings provide empirical evidence that ride-sharing services such as Uber significantly decrease the traffic congestion after entering an urban area.

Here is the paper, by Li, Hong, and Zhang, via the excellent Kevin Lewis.  Kevin also directs our attention to this paper by Arye Hillman & Niklas Potrafke:

Simple correlations show that Protestantism is associated with economic freedom, Islam is not, with Catholicism in between. The Protestant ethic requires economic freedom. Our empirical estimates, which include religiosity, political institutions, and other explanatory variables, confirm that Protestantism is most conducive to economic freedom.

By the way, here is my earlier column on the benefits of Uber, one product of economic freedom.  By the way, do not try this driverless car trick at home.

What I’ve been reading

1. Robert Kanigel, Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs.  Lots of information about Jane Jacobs, so it has to be a good book and indeed it is.  I found Becoming Jane Jacobs more engaging to read, but this one covered the latter part of her life in great detail, unlike the previous bio.

2. Claire-Louise Bennett, Pond.  This is not a plot-based novel, rather it is Irish and poetic and much of it I read a second time.  Most of you would find it frustrating.

3. Alain Bresson, The Making of the Ancient Greek Economy.  I would not describe this as stirring narrative, but that is more the nature of the material than any fault of the author.  It is by far the most comprehensive treatment of what we know about the ancient Greek economy.  Here is Mark Koyama on theorizing about ancient economiesNB: I have only browsed this book.

4. John Stubbs, Jonathan Swift: The Reluctant Rebel.  A good detailed biography, focusing more on Swift’s times, Ireland, and religious and political disputes, rather than Swift as writer per se.   A very useful supplement to the other major Swift biographies.

5. Williamson Murray and Wayne Wei-Siang Hsieh, A Savage War: A Military History of the Civil War.  The best, clearest, and most instructive military history of the Civil War I have ever read; the pre-history summary of war origins is good too.  Someday I should write a full post on all the reasons why I find so many Civil War military history books unreadable, in the meantime this one hit a home run.  By the way, the two authors live in Fairfax, VA.

Also noteworthy is Leigh Eric Schmidt, Village Atheists: How America’s Unbelievers Made Their Way in a Godly Nation.

Richard English, Does Terrorism Work? is a good, balanced historical look at what terrorists have and have not achieved.  The best chapter was on Ireland, and the book is mainly non-Muslim examples.

Arrived in my pile, and looking very interesting, are:

Roger E.A. Farmer, Prosperity For All: How to Prevent Financial Crises.

Adrian Goldsworthy, Pax Romana: War, Peace and Conquest in the Roman World.

Give me video games or give me death

Once the craft approaches Mars — a trip of about 20 months or more — the craft will have to get through the atmosphere, reaching a temperature of 1,700°C, and use rockets to lower the craft gently onto the moon.

That is a description of the new Elon Musk plan to settle Mars.  He hinted at the ticket price someday being as low as 200k.  By the way, space flight is bad for your eyes, and here is Alex on the dangers of space travel.

I get that planet earth someday may be destroyed, but does that give anyone a private incentive to leave for Mars in the meantime?

Seasteading is looking better all the time…

Tuesday assorted links

1. Missing moods.  And apolitical reasons to hate politics.

2. No boo necklace markets in everything.  Avoid those monsters.

3. The Jewish-American accent.  And Donald Trump’s linguistic style.

4. Alan Turing’s computer-generated music has been restored.

5. “A boom in electric cars means Europe would have to look at building the equivalent of nearly 50 power stations the size of the UK’s planned Hinkley Point nuclear plant, EU experts have warned.  And if big fleets of plug-in cars are charged with electricity from power plants burning coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, overall levels of sulphur dioxide air pollution are likely to rise, a study from the government-funded European Environment Agency shows.”  FT link here.

6. How to read a book a week.

Those new service sector jobs, anti-drone falconer edition the drone wars have begun

It was said before that wedding that there would be ‘White House-level security,’ and there was an anti-drone falconer on the property.

The headline of the story is:

Art scion, 46, marries billionaire’s daughter, 23, in $5million French Riviera fete with ‘White House-level security’ and guests including Heidi Klum, the Olsen twins, Princess Bea and groomsman Owen Wilson

And do note:

The wedding took place at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Antibes, France

For the pointer I thank Neville Andrew Mehra.

Peter Navarro outlines the Trump economic plan

To score the benefits of eliminating trade deficit drag, we don’t need any complex computer model. We simply add up most (if not all) of the tax revenues and capital expenditures that would be gained if the trade deficit were eliminated. We have modeled only the impacts of implicit profits and wages, not any other economic aspect of the increased activity.

Trump proposes eliminating America’s $500 billion trade deficit through a combination of increased exports and reduced imports. Again assuming labor is 44 percent of GDP, eliminating the deficit would result in $220 billion of additional wages. This additional wage income would be taxed at an effective rate of 28 percent (including trust taxes), yielding additional tax revenues of $61.6 billion.

In addition, businesses would earn at least a 15% profit margin on the $500 billion of incremental revenues, and this translates into pretax profits of $75 billion. Applying Trump’s 15% corporate tax rate, this results in an additional $11.25 billion of taxes.

Emphasis is added by this author.

Here is the full document (pdf).  Here is my earlier profile of Peter Navarro.  For the pointer I thank the excellent Binyamin Appelbaum.

Addendum: Scott Sumner comments.

Sentences about macroeconomics

From Brinca, Chari, Kehoe, and McGrattan, there is a new NBER paper “Accounting for Business Cycles“:

First with the notable exception of the United States, Spain, Ireland, and Iceland, the Great Recession was driven primarily by the efficiency wedge.  Second, in the Great Recession, the labor wedge plays a dominant role only in the United States, and the investment wedge plays a dominant role in Spain, Ireland, and Iceland.  Third, in the recessions of the 1980s, the labor wedge played a dominant role only in France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and New Zealand.  Finally, in the Great Recession the efficiency wedge played a much more important role and the investment wedge played a less important role than they did in the recessions of the 1980s.

You don’t have to agree with each and every claim there to see that a simple AS-AD model won’t give you enough structure to seriously address such questions.  And:

The first misconception is that efficiency wedges in a prototype model can only come from technology shocks…In our judgment, by far the least interesting interpretation of efficiency wedges is as narrowly interpreted shocks to the blueprints governing individual firm production functions.

As a good first-order approximation, everything you read about “real business cycle theory” from its non-practitioners in the popular realm is wrong.  Except the very phrase “real business cycle theory” isn’t even the correct term here.  Better would be “contemporary macroeconomics,” although then the sense-reference distinction is going to play havoc with the first sentence of this paragraph.

Power Poses Are Dead

wonder-woman-power-poseDana Carney one of the co-authors of the famous paper (462 citations) that led to the famous TED talk (36 million views) and innumerable articles in the popular press on “power poses” (e.g. This Simple ‘Power Pose’ Can Change Your Life And Career) writes that after reviewing the evidence:

    1. I do not have any faith in the embodied effects of “power poses.” I do not think the effect is real.
    2. I do not study the embodied effects of power poses.
    3. I discourage others from studying power poses.
    4. I do not teach power poses in my classes anymore.
    5. I do not talk about power poses in the media and haven’t for over 5 years (well before skepticism set in)
    6. I have on my website and my downloadable CV my skepticism about the effect and links to both the failed replication by Ranehill et al. and to Simmons & Simonsohn’s p-curve paper suggesting no effect. And this document.

This cannot have been easy to write. Bravo.

Is American Pet Health Care (Also) Uniquely Inefficient?

That is the title of the new NBER paper by Liran Einav, Amy Finkelstein, and Atul Gupta, here is the abstract:

We document four similarities between American human healthcare and American pet care: (i) rapid growth in spending as a share of GDP over the last two decades; (ii) strong income-spending gradient; (iii) rapid growth in the employment of healthcare providers; and (iv) similar propensity for high spending at the end of life. We speculate about possible implications of these similar patterns in two sectors that share many common features but differ markedly in institutional features, such as the prevalence of insurance and of public sector involvement.

Note that the number of veterinarians doubled from 1996 to 2013.  The authors do not seem to have data on whether cats and dogs live longer in the United States, but I have a surmise…

Here are ungated copies of the paper.

Assorted Monday links

1. Will humans wipe out rats?

2. Theodore W. Anderson, econometrician, has passed away.

3. Punishment in a world of life extension.

4. NYT reviews Abbey Road in 1969 and basically slams it.  The reviewer hated George’s songs on the album and confuses Paul’s voice with John’s, among other mistakes.

5. The visual design problems with U.S. coins.

6. The new Aguiar, Bils, Charles, and Hurst paper on leisure and the decline of work (pdf): “We use estimated “Leisure Engel Curves” to calculate that changes in leisure technology for computer goods broadly, and video games in particular, shift the labor supply curve by an amount between 10 and 25 percent of the observed decline in market work hours for prime age men and between 20 and 45 percent of the decline in market work hours for LEYM [less educated young men].”

China fact of the day

The Chinese government estimates females found 55 percent of new Internet companies and more than a quarter of all entrepreneurs are women. In the U.S., only 22 percent of startups have one or more women on their founding teams, according to research by Vivek Wadhwa and Farai Chideya for their book ‘Innovating Women: The Changing Face of Technology.’

That is from Shai Oster and Selina Wang.  Some of that may stem from the one-child policy, but note ex-communist countries have relatively good records of producing female CEOs.

Is “hard Brexit” becoming more or less likely?

You can argue it either way.  On one hand, the forward march of the UK economy, and the inability to develop a coherent negotiating position, militate in favor of a relatively quick and condition-less Brexit.  The European Union is not offering any very flexible intermediate deals, perhaps to punish future would-be leavers.  On the other hand, the consequences would be sobering (FT):

Research by the FT shows the scale of the UK-based banks using passporting to sell into the EU. The group of 96 banks has assets of £7.5tn, directly employ more than 590,000 people and make annual profits of around £50bn.

Bank executives say EU passporting makes up 20-25 per cent of the London business of international investment banks, including the five big US players, who have assets of £1.5tn and staff of 21,000 in their UK-based banks, and the two big Swiss, which have assets of £415bn and staff of more than 6,000.


…John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow, warned that leaving the EU customs union would “add massive overhead” for businesses and port operators. “Can you imagine operating something like the Euro[tunnel] if you had to suddenly build in all these checks in place? It would be completely unmanageable,” he told the FT.

This explainer of the “gravity model of trade” shows the UK could not make up lost EU business elsewhere in the world.  Oil and a few other commodities aside, you trade with the countries that are next to you.

Overall, the Brexit stakes are higher than a few months ago, and that is making the final outcome harder not easier to predict.

Sunday assorted links

1. Doubts about the supposed Chinese skeletons found in Rome, 3-5th century A.D.  Still, China to Rome just isn’t that far, and it is naive to believe this kind of contact didn’t exist.  Study the history of the Polynesians.

2. The main influences on Sam Bowman.

3. Puffin topology, with violin (short video).

4. Afghan Bistro in Springfield, the best Afghan food I’ve had, get the Aushak, kadu, and eggplant.

5. Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood, newly released in an accessible, English subtitled form, shows that even his “minor” works are better than almost anything else.

*Hitler’s Soldiers*

The author is Ben H. Shepherd and the subtitle is The German Army in the Third Reich.  That may seem like a timeworn topic, but I found this book consistently fresh and interesting, also well-written, analytic throughout, one of the year’s best non-fiction studies.  Here is one bit:

Two occupied populations whom the German army particularly tried to cultivate were the Muslim peoples of the Crimea and the Caucasus.  The Sunni Tatars comprised a quarter of the Crimea’s population, and German army administrators saw them, as they would also come to see their Muslim brethren in the Caucasus, as presenting an opportunity to woo Islam in the Soviet Union for political and military gain.  The Germans granted the Tatars religious rights and concessions and reintroduced major religious holidays, and Manstein’s otherwise infamous November 1941 order required his troops to treat the Tatars with respect…the Germans appointed a Muslim committee to re-establish the religious infrastructure.

…Yet the failings of German occupation were soon apparent to these Muslim peoples.

Overall the message is that the German army was less effective and less moral [sic] than many other historians had suggested.  Recommended.