Month: February 2017

My Conversation with Rabbi David Wolpe

One of my favorites, David was great, here is the link to the podcast, video, and transcript.  Here is the opening summary of the chat:

Named one of the most influential Jewish thinkers of our time, Rabbi David Wolpe joins Tyler in a conversation on flawed leaders, Jewish identity in the modern world, the many portrayals of David, what’s missing in rabbinical training, playing chess on the Sabbath, Srugim, Hasidic philosophy, living in Israel and of course, the durability of creation.

Here are a few bits:

WOLPE: So as my friend Joseph Telushkin says, “Polygamy does exist in the Bible, it’s just never successful.” David does have many wives, and very strained and interesting and complex relationships with women. David has the most complicated and most described relationships with women of any character in the Hebrew Bible.

Those qualities that can be negative, in David are to some extent positive. One of the things that draws David out of the charge of simple narcissism is that he really listens, he pays attention — he pays attention to women over and over again. He listens to what they say and changes himself because of it. And that’s not a characteristic of men in the ancient world or the modern one that you can rely on.


COWEN: So again, I’m an outsider in this dialogue, but say I were thinking of converting to Judaism and I were asking you about Hasidic philosophy. Now in terms of some social connections, I probably would fit better into your congregation than into a Hasidic congregation. But if I ask you, on theological grounds alone, is there a reason why I should be hesitant about Hasidic philosophy? From the point of view of theology, what do you think is the greatest weakness there, or your biggest difference with it, given how much you like Heschel?


COWEN: How would you alter or improve rabbinical training?

WOLPE: I’ve given this a lot of thought. Let me just mention one area. When I speak to rabbinical students, I tell them all the time that the single most valuable commodity you have as a rabbi . . . you can answer that yourself, and then I’ll tell you what I think: your voice. Most people are going to come in contact with you when you speak to them. Not all of them, but most. There’ll be more people who come to your services than the number of people at whose bedside you will sit as they die.

And yet, most rabbis — most people — don’t know how to speak.

There is much more at the link, including about Israeli TV, where to visit in Israel, whether King David parallels Trump, the future of biblical commentary in a world of context-less social media, whether Canadian Jews are more likely to stick with the faith, whether Los Angeles is underrated, what is beautiful and significant in Islam, and the Iran nuclear deal and the settlements, among other topics.  Self-recommending…

And again, here is David Wolpe’s most recent book David: The Divided Heart, which was the centerpiece for the first part of the discussion.

The Pathology of Domestic Aid

Arvind Subramanian, Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India, and co-authors have a nice summary of the effect of internal domestic aid on governance (the longer version is a chapter in the excellent Indian Economic Survey.) The bottom line is this:

The evidence suggests that all the pathologies associated with foreign aid appear to manifest in the context of intra-country transfers too

In particular, using one measure of aid to states, Redistributive Resource Transfers or RRT the authors find:

rrtHigher RRT seem to be associated with:

  1. Lower per capita consumption
  2. Lower gross state domestic product (GSDP) growth
  3. Lower fiscal effort (defined as the share of own tax revenue in GSDP)
  4. Smaller share of manufacturing in GSDP, and
  5. Weaker governance.

Causality likely goes both ways of course but using an instrumental variable of distance to New Delhi (which correlates with transfers) the authors find suggestive evidence, as shown in the figure, that transfers are a cause of weaker governance.

It’s interesting to read an official government report which discusses instrumental variables!

Reciprocity and Muscular Dystrophy

For years, muscular dystrophy patients in the United States have been purchasing the drug deflazacort — used to stabilize muscle strength and keep patients mobile for a period of time — from companies in the United Kingdom at a manageable price of $1,600 a year.

But because an American company just got approval from the Food and Drug Administration to sell the drug in the United States, the price of the drug will soar to a staggering $89,000 annually, the Wall Street Journal reported last week.

Because the FDA restricts the importing of drugs from overseas if a version is available domestically, patients are stuck with the new, expensive version. This makes deflazacort the perfect case for advocates of international drug reciprocity — a reform that would make it easier for consumers to buy drugs that have been approved in other developed countries.

That is the introduction to an interview with yours truly in the Washington Post. I discuss thalidomide and the race to the bottom argument. Here is one other bit:

IT: Do you have any thoughts about the potential for FDA reform under this new administration and Congress?

AT: Peter Thiel’s speech at the Republican National Convention reminded us that we used to take big, bold risks — like going to the moon. Today, to say a project is a “moon shot” is almost a put-down, as if going to the moon never happened. We have become risk-averse and complacent, to borrow a term from my colleague Tyler Cowen. The result of the incessant focus on safety is playgrounds without teeter totters, armed guards at our schools and national monuments, infrastructure projects that no longer get built, and pharmaceutical breakthroughs that never happen.

The new administration is unpredictable, but when it comes to the FDA, unpredictable is better than business as usual.

The administration has yet to appoint a great FDA commissioner. Early names floated included Balaji Srinivasan, Jim O’Neill, Joseph Gulfo, and Scott Gottlieb but Srinivasan seems to have removed himself from the running. O’Neill would be great but I don’t think the US is ready, so that leaves Gulfo and Gottlieb. My suspicion is that Trump will like Gulfo because of Gulfo’s entrepreneurial experience but, as I said, the new administration is unpredictable.

What is the most multicultural city in the world?

Max Méndez Beck phrased it this way:

what do you think is the most multicultural (minimal segregation while having great ethnic diversity) city in the world?

Toronto springs to mind as a candidate, but it is increasingly expensive and perhaps more ethnically segregated than it used to be or at least more segregated by income and class.  Montreal is gaining on it by this metric.  Sydney is likely in the top ten, but too many parts are posh to be #1.  Sao Paulo has so many ethnicities, but when you get right down to it they are all Brazilians.  Don’t laugh, but Geneva might be in the running, both because of immigrants crowded near the center and the city’s international organizations.  But perhaps I will settle on Brooklyn, which if it were its own city would be the fourth largest in the United States.  (I love Queens, but have a harder time calling it a city.)  Brooklyn has recent arrivals from almost the entire world, and even the very nicest of neighborhoods are usually not so far from the poorer areas.  Still, if you refuse to count Brooklyn, it is striking that Montreal has a real chance of topping this list: wealthy enough to bring in foreigners, not so wealthy as to price them away.

Reading Julius Evola

Yes, the survey of “works of reaction” will continue, at what speed I am not sure.  I picked up Julius Evola, in particular his Revolt Against the Modern World, because of a recent NYT article claiming Evola’s influence over Steve Bannon.  I don’t consider the cited evidence for a connection as anything other than tenuous, but still the book was only a click away and Evola was a well-known Italian fascist and I’ve been reading in that area anyway (read in areas clusters!).  I read about 70-80 pages of it, and pawed some of the rest.  I was frustrated.  Upon revisiting the book, here is the passage I opened up to at random:

If on the one hand the original synthesis of the two powers is reestablished in the person of the consecrated king, on the other hand, the nature of the hierarchical relationships existing in every normal social order between royalty and priestly case (or church), which is merely the mediator of supernatural influences, is very clearly defined: regality enjoys primacy over the priesthood, just as, symbolically speaking, the sun has primacy over the moon and the man over the woman.

He then went on about sacrifices and “the priestly regality of Melchizedek.”  In later life, Evola sported a monocle over his left eye, and if you are wondering he did have a reputation as an anti-feminist theorist.  Oh give me the clarity of Mosley and Dugin!

I’ve been pawing through de Maistre and de Bonald as well, I’ll let you know if I find anything interesting there.  In the meantime, someone needs to write an Atlantic article about the much-neglected connection between Alt Right and mystical ideas.

Tuesday assorted links

1. “Gambia will become just the fourth country to return to the Commonwealth after leaving it, following South Africa, Pakistan and Fiji.”

2. “Ironically, every person who complained about how the party was too focused on attacking Trump in 2016 also tried to out-do the other candidates in promising to go after the new president.

3. “The move was announced by Playboy’s new chief creative officer Cooper Hefner, who said the decision to remove nudity entirely “was a mistake”.

4. New movie about the young Karl Marx.

5. Only the Russians can charge $120 for private library admittance.

6. After Trump’s election, are conservatives dating more and liberals dating less?

The election of Trump and the stock market: further and more specific results

There is a new NBER paper on this topic by Alexander Wagner, Richard J. Zeckhauser, and Alexandre Ziegler, here is the abstract:

The election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America on 11/8/2016 came as a surprise. Markets responded swiftly and decisively. This note investigates both the initial stock market reaction to the election, and the longer-term reaction through the end of 2016. We find that the individual stock price reactions to the election – that is, the market’s vote – reflect investor expectations on economic growth, taxes, and trade policy. Heavy industry and banking were relative winners, whereas healthcare, medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, textiles, and apparel were among the relative losers. High-beta stocks and companies with a hitherto high tax burden benefited from the election. Although internationally-oriented companies may profit under some plans of the new administration, several other arguments suggest a more favorable climate for domestically-oriented companies. Investors have found the domestic-favoring arguments to be stronger. While investors incorporated the expected consequences of the election for US growth and tax policy into prices relatively quickly, it took them more time to digest the consequences of shifts in trade policy on firms’ prospects.

Having read through the paper, this does not to me look mainly like a shift from consumers (domestically-oriented and retail stocks are doing well enough).  It is closer to “companies overall benefit from greater wealth creation, though some will benefit considerably more than others, with some trade worries built in.”  The tax component is significant.

Again, the market is often wrong, but this is at the very least a…um…”public relations problem” for the Democrats.  The worse you think Trump is, the worse this problem becomes!

And please, don’t tell me on Twitter about the stock market not predicting your favorite catastrophe from history.  That point would not pass through an Intro to Stats course intact.

The Virtue of Fake Holidays

Jeremy McLellan is a comedian but like all great comedians he captures truths and complexities underneath the laughs.

Valentine’s Day is a just a fake holiday invented by Hallmark to sell greeting cards. So what have you invented recently to make people happy? Nothing, that’s what!

In three lovely sentences McLellan recaps Hayek versus Galbraith on the nature of advertising, consumer demand and entrepreneurship. Entire dissertations could be written parsing this out.

A Price is a Signal Wrapped Up in an Incentive

The world’s largest exporter of roses is an Indian firm, Karuturi Global, which has leased 3,000 square kilometers of land in Ethiopia.

I talked today about globalization and the price system using Valentine’s Day and the rose market as a jumping off point. I spoke at the Sarla Anil Modi School of Economics at NMIMS in Mumbai. The students were excellent. Lots of well informed, enthusiastic questions, and debate.

Here is a bit of what I said:

*Eurasian Mission*, by Alexander Dugin

I had heard and read so much about Dugin but had never read him.  The subtitle is Introduction to Neo-Eurasianism, and here were a few of my takeaway points:

1. His tone is never hysterical or brutish, and overall this comes across as scholarly (except for the appended pamphlet on “Global Revolution”), albeit at a semi-popular level.

2. He is quite concerned with tracing the lineages of Eurasian thought, thus the “neo” in the subtitle.  Nikolai Trubetzkoy gets a lot of play.  The correct theories of history are cyclical, and the Soviet Union was lacking in spiritual and qualitative development and thus it failed.

3. Dugin is a historical relativist, every civilization has different principles of development, and we must take great care to understand the principles in each case.  Ethnicities and peoples represent “inestimable wealth” and they must be preserved against the logic of a globalized, unipolar world.

4. Geography is primary.  Russia-Eurasia is a “steppe and woods” empire, whereas America is fundamentally an Atlantic, seafaring civilization.  Globalization tries to universalize what is ultimately quite a culture-specific point of view, stemming from the American, Anglo, and Atlantic mindsets.

5. Eurasian philosophy ultimately can contain, in a Hegelian way, anti-global philosophies, as well as the contributions of Foucault, Deleuze, and Debord, not to mention List, Gesell, and Keynes properly understood.

6. “It is vitally imperative for Turkey to establish a strategic partnership with the Russian Federation and Iran.”

7. The integration of the post-Soviet surrounding territories is to occur on a democratic and voluntary basis (p.51).  The nation-state is obsolete, so this is imperative as a means of protecting ethnicities and a multi-polar world against the logic of globalization.  Nonetheless Russia is to be the leader of this process.

8. “America’s influence is the most negative tendency in the world…”, and American think tanks and the media are part of this harmful push toward a unipolar world; transhumanism is worse yet.  Tocqueville, Baudrillard, and Dugin are the three fundamental attempts to make sense of America.  The Statue of Liberty resembles the Greek goddess of hell, Hecate.

9. The Eurasian economy must be subjugated to “higher civilizational spiritual values.”  City-dwellers are often a problem, as they too frequently side with the forces of globalization.

10. “Japan…is the objective leader of the Pacific.”  It must be liberated from the Atlanticist sphere of influence.  Nary a nod to China.

11. On Moldova: “Archaic?  Let it be archaic.  It’s great!”  At times he does deviate from #1 on this list.

12. Putin is his own greatest enemy because he leans too far in the liberal direction.

13. Dugin enjoys writing with bullet points.

14. “Soon the world will descend into chaos.”

Apart from whatever interest you may hold in these and other particulars, this is a good book for rethinking the notion of intellectual influence.  Very very few Anglo-American intellectuals have had real influence, but Dugin has.  That is reason enough to read this tract.

Addendum: Here is good background on what Dugin is up to these days.  His current motto: “Drain the swamp.”

Who is the historical leader most like Donald Trump?

What would you think of a Western democratic leader who was populist, obsessed with the balance of trade, especially effective on television, feisty and combative with the press, and able to take over his country’s right-wing party and swing it in a more interventionist direction?

Meet Robert Muldoon, prime minister of New Zealand from 1975 to 1984. For all the comparisons of President Donald Trump to Mussolini or various unsavory Latin American leaders, Muldoon is a clearer parallel case.

Here is the full Bloomberg column, much more at the link.

Monday assorted links

1. Scott Sumner reviews various Asian (and other) movies, strong agreement on most of the ones I know.

2. Eagle vs. drone.

3. “Antiquarian books worth more than £2m have been stolen by a gang who avoided a security system by abseiling into a west London warehouse.”  Abseiling!

4. Is there a Woodley effect?

5. After field research, professor ends up as fan of check cashing services.

6. A history of undergraduate econometric instruction.  And the economic impact of H1-B visas, both NBER papers.

The political economy of vouchers and churches

A while ago I had some email with Noah Smith on this topic, now we are getting somewhere, this is from a new NBER working paper by Daniel M Hungerman, Kevin J. Rinz, and Jay Frymark:

We use a dataset of Catholic-parish finances from Milwaukee that includes information on both Catholic schools and the parishes that run them. We show that vouchers [funded by the government] are now a dominant source of funding for many churches; parishes in our sample running voucher-accepting schools get more revenue from vouchers than from worshipers. We also find that voucher expansion prevents church closures and mergers. Despite these results, we fail to find evidence that vouchers promote religious behavior: voucher expansion causes significant declines in church donations and church spending on non-educational religious purposes. The meteoric growth of vouchers appears to offer financial stability for congregations while at the same time diminishing their religious activities.

I’ve long maintained that the fiscal effects of vouchers, if they were implemented on a much larger scale, are the elephant in the room.  For better or worse.

Florida best-selling vinyl albums fact of the day

1. A Night at the Opera – Queen

2. Queen – Queen

3. Parachutes – Coldplay

In Hawaii it is Bob Marley, AC/DC in Idaho, Alanis Morrisette in Iowa and Maine, Revolver and Coltrane in NY, Michael Jackson in Utah, and the Rolling Stones’ Goat’s Head Soup does surprisingly well.  Coldplay, Fleetwood Mac, and Arctic Monkeys all have multiple placements.  Here is the link, based on eBay data.

*Fascism: 100 questions asked and answered*

That is the 1936 book by British fascist Oswald Mosley, and it is arguably the clearest first-person introduction to the topic for an Anglo reader, serving up less gobbledygook than most of the Continental sources.  Mosley actually makes arguments for his point of view, and thinks through what possible objections might be, which is not the case with say Marinetti.  Beyond the basics, here are a few points I gleaned from my read:

1. Voting still will occur, at least once every five years, because “The support of the people is far more necessary to a Government of action than to a Democratic Government, which tricks the people into a vote once every five years on an irrelevant issue, and then hopes the Nation will go to sleep for another five years so that the Government can go to sleep as well.”

2. Voting will be organized by occupation, not geographic locality.

3. If an established British fascist government loses a vote, the King will send for new ministers, but not necessarily from the opposing party.

4. The House of Lords is to become much more technical, technocratic, and detailed in its knowledge, drawing more upon science and industry.  The description reminds me of the CCP State Council.

5. A National Council of Corporations will conduct much of economic policy, and as far as I can tell it would stand on a kind of par with Parliament.

6. “M.P.’s will be converted from windbags into men of action.”

7. A special Corporation would be created to represent the interests of women politically.  Women will not be forced to become mothers, but high wages for men will represent a very effective subsidy to childbirth.

8. The government will spend much more money on research and development, with rates of return of “one hundred-fold.”

9. Wages will be boosted considerably by cutting out middlemen and distribution costs.  The resulting higher real wages will maintain aggregate demand.  Cheap, wage-undercutting foreign imports will not be allowed.

10. Foreign investment abroad will be eliminated, as will the gold standard and foreign immigration into Britain.

11. “…foreigners who have not proved themselves worthy citizens of Britain will deported.”  And “Jews will not be afforded the full rights of British citizenship,” as they have deliberately maintained themselves as a distinct foreign community.

12. Any banker who breaks the law will go to jail, just as a poor person would.

13. Inheritance will not be allowed, but private property in land will persist and will be accompanied by with radically egalitarian land reform.

14. To restore the prosperity of coal miners, competition from cheap Polish labor and Polish imports will be eliminated.

15. The small shopkeeper shall be favored over chain stores, especially if the latter are in foreign or Jewish hands.

16. All citizens, rich and poor, are to have the right to an education up through age 18.  Overall there is considerable emphasis on not letting human capital go to waste, and a presumption that there is a lot of implicit slack in the system under the status quo ex ante.

17. Hospitals will be coordinated, but not nationalized.  That would be going too far.

18. Roosevelt’s New Deal is distinct from fascism because a) the American government does not have enough “power to plan,” and b) it relies on “Jewish capital.”

19. The colonies will sell raw materials to Britain, and produce agriculture for themselves, but will not allowed to compete in manufactures.  And this:  “If we failed to hold India, we should be 1/100th the men they were.”

20. By removing the struggle for foreign markets, fascism will bring perpetual peace.

Mosley was later interned from 1940 to 1943.