Month: February 2017

Tuesday assorted links

1. Should cow urine be worth more than cow milk?

2. No woolly mammoths in two years, sorry.

3. Why Chris Blattman is skeptical about UBI.

4. A critique of Autor, Dorn, and Hanson on China (Due to book and other commitments, I have not read it but I am seeing it get some play).  And a Phil Hill critique of the new Caroline Hoxby paper on on-line education, have not read that either, sorry!

5. Matthew Rees review of Complacent Class in WSJ: ““The Complacent Class” is refreshingly nonideological, filled with observations…that will resonate with conservatives, liberals and libertarians.”

6. David French at National Review, “one of the most important reads of the new year.”

7. Australia kangaroo fact of the day.

The first video for *The Complacent Class*

Today is publication date, here is an accompanying video, with four more on the way.  It draws on some themes of the book without being either a summary or repetition:


Here is the page on all the videos, where you can sign up for email notification as well.

You can buy the book from Barnes&Noble here, Amazon here, signed edition here, Apple here.  Amazon reviews are welcome too!

Akshardham Temple

Akshardham Temple in New Delhi, India, is the world’s largest Hindu temple. It’s constructed according to ancient Hindu architectural principles from pink sandstone and marble with no steel or concrete. Approaching the temple it rises to the sky like something out of the Game of Thrones.


Although hardly unknown, tourist guides typically don’t give it pride of place because it isn’t old, having opened in 2005 after just five years (!) of construction. My view, however, is that in 500 years people will flock to this site and marvel at how it was made without use of any robots. So why wait when you can see it now while it is still fresh. The Taj Mahal was new once, but that shouldn’t have deterred people from seeing it at the time.

[To make time, skip the Red Fort in Delhi as Agra Fort next to the Taj is similar to the Red Fort but better.]

The temple features beautiful carvings from thousands of artists but unfortunately, photography is not allowed. (The pictures I found were online). The elephants shown below are modelled on similar designs but at much smaller scale at ancient Hindu temples.

The site is easy to get to and there is no entrance fee. A small fee covers an Imax movie and a boat ride featuring Hindu history.

Akshardam was built by the Hindu organization BAPS:

Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) is a socio-spiritual Hindu organization with its roots in the Vedas. It was revealed by Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781-1830) in the late 18th century and established in 1907 by Shastriji Maharaj (1865-1951). Founded on the pillars of practical spirituality, the BAPS reaches out far and wide to address the spiritual, moral and social challenges and issues we face in our world. Its strength lies in the purity of its nature and purpose. BAPS strives to care for the world by caring for societies, families and individuals. Its universal work through a worldwide network of over 3,850 centers has received many national and international awards and affiliation with the United Nations. Today, a million or more Swaminarayan followers begin their day with puja and meditation, lead upright, honest lives and donate regular hours in serving others. No Alcohol, No Addictions, No Adultery, No Meat, No Impurity of body and mind are their five lifetime vows. Such pure morality and spirituality forms the foundation of the humanitarian services performed by BAPS.

BAPS has built temples like this throughout the world. In fact, you don’t have to come to India to see one! I said Akshardham Temple is the world’s largest (working) Hindu temple but it is about to be eclipsed by another temple built by BAPS in Robbinsville, New Jersey! Yes, New Jersey.

Go see it!


Self-deception as the root of political failure

That is a paper of mine from long ago, started in the late 1990s if I recall correctly.  It still seems relevant today, all the more so.  It ended up published in Public Choice, but here is an ungated on-line version, here is the abstract:

I consider models of political failure based on self-deception. Individuals discard free information when that information damages their self-image and thus lowers their utility. More specifically, individuals prefer to feel good about their previously chosen affiliations and shape their worldviews accordingly. This model helps explain the relative robustness of political failure in light of extensive free information, and it helps to explain the rarity of truth-seeking behavior in political debate. The comparative statics predictions differ from models of either Downsian or expressive voting. For instance, an increased probability of voter decisiveness does not necessarily yield a better result. I also consider political parties as institutions and whether political errors cancel in the aggregate. I find that political failure based on self-deception is very difficult to eliminate.

What I find strange is people who think this has only recently become relevant.

Government contractor sentences to ponder

  1. What, then, is the one “must-know fact” about “Big Government” in America today?

It is that “Big Government” in America today is both debt-financed and proxy-administered.

The first half of that essential fact is well known, much discussed, and much debated.  For all but five post-1960 years, the federal government has run deficits, and the national debt is now bordering on $20 trillion.  But the latter half of that essential fact—rampant proxy administration—is little known, poorly understood, and, except in certain moments of crisis, ignored.

…Congress, the keystone of the Washington establishment, has spent half a century promising us that, so to speak, we can all go to heaven without needing to die first.  The American way of “Big Government” has produced massive deficits, both financial and administrative.

That is from John J. Dilulio, Jr., recommended throughout.

Forgive my haterade clicktivism, but we don’t need these new words

New coinages that reflect the latest wave of online political activism form a significant section of more than 300 new definitions in the database, which is a sister work to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Additions including “clicktivism” (a pejorative word for armchair activists on social media), “haterade” (excessive negativity, criticism, or resentment), “otherize” (view or treat – a person or group of people – as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself) and “herd mentality” (the tendency for people’s behaviour or beliefs to conform to those of the group to which they belong) all emerged during the 2016 battle for the White House, said head of content development Angus Stevenson.

Who exactly is the gatekeeper?:

“Craptacular” (remarkably poor and disappointing), “bronde” (hair dyed both blond and brunette) and “fitspiration” (a person or thing that serves as motivation for someone to sustain or improve health and fitness) all made the cut.

Here is the Guardian story by Danuta Kean.

Monday assorted links

1. “Since its first meeting, the Coffin Club has helped hundreds craft their own caskets.”  File under: the do-it-yourself culture that is New Zealand.

2. Why Stalin created a cult of Pushkin.  And translating North Korean fiction.

3. “Today Dolezal is jobless, and feeding her family with food stamps…The only work she has been offered is reality TV, and porn.”  Link here.

4. Profile of Geert Wilders.

5. There is now a signaling theory of lullabies.

China wage fact of the day

Average hourly wages in China’s manufacturing sector trebled between 2005 and 2016 to $3.60, according to Euromonitor, while during the same period manufacturing wages fell from $2.90 an hour to $2.70 in Brazil, from $2.20 to $2.10 in Mexico, and from $4.30 to $3.60 in South Africa.

Chinese wages also outstripped Argentina, Colombia and Thailand during the same time, as the country integrated more closely into the global economy after its 2001 admission into the World Trade Organisation.

…Manufacturing wages in Portugal have plunged from $6.30 an hour to $4.50 last year, bringing wage levels below those in parts of eastern Europe and only leaving them 25 per cent higher than in China.

That is from Steve Johnson at the FT.

Open-minded vs. hungry-minded

From Dan Wang:

Let me take this opportunity to register a complaint with the term “open-minded,” which is increasingly praised as an important virtue.

I’ve started to dislike the term. First of all, it’s unobjectionable—who would profess he is not open-minded? More importantly, it’s not always clear what the term refers to, and this is worth thinking through. It might indicate the state of being “soft-minded,” in which one would readily be swayed by better arguments. But often it tends to connote “empty-minded,” in which one accepts anything and retains little. Many people are indeed open to different cultures and ideas, but they’re not necessarily conceptualizing their experience, nor active in seeking new experiences out.

I would like for everyone to be “hungry-minded,” in which one realizes that there is so much to know.

Much (by no means all) of the post is a review of The Complacent Class.  Dan of course is an excellent reader:

By introducing little oddities in the text, Cowen makes room for claims that are too difficult to baldly state; in other cases, watch for occasions in which he’s offering commentary on something other than what he’s directly writing about.

I am envious that Dan is now in Kunming again…

Brazil pension facts of the day

Pension spending is already the equivalent of 12% of GDP, half as much again as the average among members of the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries that have many more senior citizens (see chart). The combined annual shortfall of the pension schemes is 4.8% of GDP, equivalent to more than half the government budget deficit. The state of Rio supports more public-sector pensioners than working civil servants; for every police colonel on active duty five are retired. The state is nearly bankrupt.

…Its citizens collect pensions when they are 58 on average; Mexicans toil into their 70s. Brazilians on average incomes get pensions worth four-fifths of their pre-retirement earnings, which is generous by most countries’ standards. Widows and widowers inherit the full pensions of their deceased spouses, which they can combine with their own.

…Inflated by big increases in the minimum wage, pensions now account for more than half of the government’s non-interest spending.

Here is the full story in The Economist.


I was walking from Union Station to about NY Ave. and 11th, and needed to eat along the way.  I passed through Chinatown, but to have taken a meal there seemed to me a bit…complacent.  I have Chinese food all the time, and at this time I cannot afford to be too complacent.  So I thought: what might serve as a radical shake-up for Tyler Cowen?

West of Chinatown, on H St., I saw a gleaming, fast food pizzeria, namely &pizza.  Living in my own strange ethnic bubble, I had never heard of it before.  In fact I don’t think I have had fast food pizza since I was a kid.  “This will do,” and I thought of the anecdotal value I would reap, albeit at the expense of a good meal.  For all my hesitation, the gleaming metal of the interior started to exercise a strange hold over my imagination.  I walked out once and then back in again.

I ordered a pizza margherita and water for $10, and to my surprise it was ready in two minutes, in a funny box to fit the oblong shape of the pizza itself.  To my bigger surprise, it was really, really good.  Betraying its apparent origins, it seemed completely fresh, and twenty years ago it might have ranked as the best pizza pie in all of DC.  I thought I would just snack on a piece, but I ended up eating the whole pie.  It was just the right size.

Funnier yet, the company is a DC start-up (don’t laugh too hard), yet without seeming to do any lobbying of the federal government.

And here is the real news: More Than 50 Couples Have Already Signed Up To Get Married At &pizza.

The next time I will go to one on purpose.

Gus Lubin at *Business Insider* reviews *The Complacent Class*

Here is the review, here is one bit:

“Matchers gain, strivers lose,” he [Cowen] writes in a new book, “The Complacent Class.”

Matchers, aka enthusiasts, are people who are motivated by personal interests, whether that’s record collecting, hiking, cooking, or obsessing about “Game of Thrones.” “The enthusiasts are not trying to come out ahead of everyone else; rather, they seek to have some of their niche preferences fulfilled for the sake of their own internally directed happiness,” Cowen writes.

Strivers, on the other hand, are motivated by beating others. “These are the people who strive to have the biggest office, bed the most mates, earn the most money, or climb whatever the relevant status ladder might be,” Cowen writes.

It’s not hard to see how recent trends have favored matchers. This group has benefitted from technology — from Tinder to Spotify to Google — that makes it easier for them to pursue their interests and find other people who share them. Meanwhile, strivers are suffering, faced with more competition than ever and a greater awareness of how many people around the world are beating them.

An excellent piece.

Saturday assorted links

1. Why it took the washing machine so long to catch on.

2. Auerbach argues for dollar adjustment, in response to the border tax.

3. In Arlington, the chance to own a pet lion or crocodile may soon disappear.  That would include snakes longer than four feet.

4. Larry Summers on Kenneth Arrow (WSJ).

5. Bilateral vs. multilateral trade deals.

6. Kevin Drum on Bryan Caplan on the “deporter in chief.”

7. Annie Lowry on UBI, the future of not working, and Kenya.  Annie by the way is moving to The Atlantic.

The show so far, a continuing series

The big news was that China actually started to apply real pressure to North Korea, namely ceasing to buy their coal for the rest of the year.  That may prove a phantom or reversed piece of news, but still it is real progress of some kind, if only in expected value terms.  Did Trump’s antics and also his courting of Abe have anything to do with this?  We don’t know.  Was Obama’s THAAD missile deployment to South Korea a factor?  Probably.  I say score one for them both.  Keep in mind that is probably the world’s #1 foreign policy problem, and otherwise progress has been hard to come by.  Their KL airport assassination also may end up as a relevant PR disaster, costing them further foreign support.

Closer to home, outright Obamacare repeal seems increasingly unlikely.  Since I never favored Obamacare, you might think I am unhappy, but as I see it they were likely to replace with something unworkable and worse.  So this is, if not good news outright, at least the opposite of bad news.  Whether through brilliance or incompetence, Trump simply isn’t leading on this issue and so major changes won’t get done, maybe not even minor changes.

Republicans in state governments are running away from fiscal conservatism rather rapidly.  The Michigan legislature turned down a tax cut and there was a significant revolt in Kansas.  That was an under-reported story, namely a reversal of Tea Party influence on Republican-controlled state governments.

The Border Tax plan appears to be dead or on life support.  Flynn is gone and replaced by the apparently excellent McMaster.  There is talk (fact?) again of Kevin Hassett as CEA chair — a great idea — and Russia seems increasingly disillusioned with our president, also a nicer place to be.

The new Executive Order on regulation has some upside deregulatory potential.  Whether or not you favor a federal role in the matter, I thought it was a good sign to see Betsy DeVos sticking up for transgender rights.

Proposed policies on trade and immigration, as well as rhetoric toward the press, remain awful, plus various “background problems” continue, but overall I thought this was a very good week for Trump, with Flynn out to pasture and the North Korea news far outweighing the rest.