Month: April 2017

There was no great submarine stagnation

Recall the development of the Polaris nuclear-missile system in the late 1950s. The whole package—a nuclear submarine, a solid-fuel missile, an underwater launch system, a nuclear warhead and a guidance system—went from the drawing board to deployment in four years (and using slide rules).

Today, according to the Defense Business Board, the average development timeline for much less complex weapons is 22.5 years. A case in point is the Ford-class aircraft carrier. The program is two years delayed and $2.4 billion over budget.

That is from John Lehman, Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan.

Advice vs. choice

I do not consider this to be a confirmed result, still the basic mechanism is of interest, especially to analyses of complacency:

Despite the near universality of the maxim that one should treat others as one ought to be treated, even well-intended advisers often advise others to act differently than they choose for themselves. We review several psychological factors that contribute to biased advice. Absent pecuniary motives to the contrary, advice tends to be paternalistically biased in favor of caution. Policies that would intuitively promote quality advice — such as making advisers accountable, taking advice from advisers who value the relationship, or having advisers disclose potential conflicts of interest — can perversely lower the quality of advice.

That is from a paper by Jason Dana and Daylian M. Cain, via Rolf Degen.  Here is further commentary from Degen.

Good endorsements for the forthcoming Peter Leeson book

I hope Peter remains my colleague for a long time to come:

COMING FALL 2017

“This book has a surprise—not to mention a puckish joke—on every page. It’s strange, it’s fascinating, and it’s one of the most original books I’ve ever read.”
—Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist

“The most interesting book I have read in years! Peter Leeson displays his unique talent: unearthing mankind’s seemingly craziest behaviors, and then showing that these behaviors, against all odds, ultimately make perfect sense. WTF?! is like Freakonomics on steroids.”
—Steven D. Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics

“A fascinating tour of the world’s strangest customs and behaviors, led by a brilliant, funny, and eccentric tour guide. It’s okay to gawk, he says, but it’s even better to empathize and, armed with Leeson’s insights, there’s no reason why we can’t do both.”
—Steven E. Landsburg, author of The Armchair Economist

“Your initial reaction might be ‘WTF!?’ How can medieval trials by ordeal, wife sales, and divine curses all boil down to rational economic behavior? But Leeson will lead you deftly through the logic and history behind these seemingly senseless rituals. Keep an open mind and this book will surprise, teach, and entertain!”
—Andrei Shleifer, Harvard University

Here is the link.  Here is the Amazon link, you can request to be emailed when it becomes available.  I thank Peter Boettke for the pointer, and I look forward to reading the book.

Baptists *are* bootleggers, medical marijuana edition

Four of New York’s five medical marijuana companies have filed suit against the state Department of Health to stop it from licensing additional operators to take part in the tightly run state program. The companies argue that the expansion could tank the nascent industry and potentially harm thousands of patients who rely on medical marijuana to treat their ailments.

Here is the article, via Peter Metrinko.

Saturday assorted links

Will tech start-ups spread throughout America more generally?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is the concluding paragraph:

The general spread of expertise, high housing costs in the most successful cities, and perhaps even a degree of intellectual complacency in Silicon Valley all may, looking forward, favor some of America’s laggard regions. There is no single answer to regional economic development, but finally some factors seem to be pointing in the right direction.

And this:

Mandel also estimates that the e-commerce sector has added 270,000 jobs to the American economy since March 2014, across multiple regions, and, in spite of all the recent problems, retail employment remains above its 2007 peak. Some additional good news is that e-commerce distribution jobs tend to be better paying and less of a dead end than most retail jobs. The warehouse and storage sector is growing dramatically, and those jobs are typically far from the wealthiest parts of the country — they are boosting Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

In the last two years, again according to Mandel, “the regions outside the top 35 metro areas accounted for almost half of net new establishments,” compared with less than one-fifth of net new businesses during the seven preceding years.

And the opening:

Sometimes significant news doesn’t make much of a splash, and that was the case for a major transaction last week. PetSmart Inc. announced the acquisition of Chewy.com LLC for $3.35 billion, the largest e-commerce deal ever. Also notable is that Chewy.com, which sells pet products online, is based near Fort Lauderdale, Florida, rather than San Francisco or Seattle or New York. Might we be at a point where startups and e-commerce drive economic growth and job creation in many regions of the country, not just a few of the more famous (and expensive) areas?

Do read the whole thing.

*Masters of Craft*

The author is Richard E. Ocejo, and the subtitle is Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy.   Here is one summary bit:

The three transformations that frame the content of this book — the restructuring of elite taste around omnivorousness, the changing of traditional community institutions into destinations of the new cultural elite in retail, and the recoding of work in the new economy — combine to explain how these jobs and businesses have become upscale, cool, and desired.

The jobs are bartender, distiller, barber, and butcher.

…these new elite manual labor jobs give men — mainly those of a certain race and social class standing — the chance to use their bodies directly in their work, as men did in the industrial era but do so less often today, as well as their minds, which grants them greater status in these jobs than they would otherwise have.  They are simultaneously respected knowledge workers and skilled manual laborers, and perform their work in public.  Men are thus able to use these jobs to achieve a lost sense of middle-class, heterosexual masculinity in their work.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in the evolution of labor markets, how America will respond to ongoing automation, the production of status, and the role of men in an increasingly feminized society.  It is more of an “thick description, insights throughout” book than an “easy to sum up the bottom line” treatment.  Here is the book’s home page.  Here is a very positive FT review of the book.

That was then, this is now

In Britain and Ireland, a large number of enterprising early birds made a living waking people for work.

A knocker-up would be paid a few pence a week to make the rounds and rouse workers, banging on their doors with a short stick or rapping on upper windows with a long pole. The knocker-up would not move on until he received confirmation that his drowsy client was up and moving.

The profession died out in the 1920s as alarm clocks became cheaper and more reliable, but a few specialized knockers-up — such as Doris Weigand, employed by a railway depot to summon workers for short-notice shifts — survived for a few decades more.

Here is the full story, via Michael Clemens.  Remember how the Brits used to say “can you knock me up in the morning?”  Here is the Guardian on the race to build the world’s first sex robot.

Friday assorted links

My *Stubborn Attachments* podcast with FT Alphaville

Stubborn Attachments is the advance peek bonus book I offered to those who pre-ordered The Complacent Class.  I once described Stubborn Attachments as follows:

In that work, I outline a true and objectively valid case for a free and prosperous society, and consider the importance of economic growth for political philosophy, how and why the political spectrum should be reconfigured, how we should think about existential risk, what is right and wrong in Parfit and Nozick and Singer and effective altruism, how to get around the Arrow Impossibility Theorem, to what extent individual rights can be absolute, how much to discount the future, when redistribution is justified, whether we must be agnostic about the distant future, and most of all why we need to “think big.”

Here is the FT Alphaville blog post, with a link to the podcast, and here is the iTunes version of the podcast, it is unlike any other podcast I have done.  About the book, Cardiff Garcia writes:

Unlike the last few sequences of Tyler’s longer published works — the books on culture and economics, the self-help via economics wisdom books, and the Stagnationist trilogy — Stubborn Attachments is foundational Tyler. It represents the Tyler from which the distinctive contrarian and provocative and educational and speed-reading and culture-savvy and eccentric Tylers all emerge.

It is also the most comprehensive expression of Tyler’s particular brand of libertarianism that I have read.

There is also a “desert island” section of the podcast, where Cardiff asks me which bodies of film, for instance which directors, I would most want to have on a desert island.  He also asks me to construct my NBA “Dream Team,” which indeed I do for him.

Llama wedding markets in everything

Save the drama for a llama on your wedding day. No, really! For brides getting married in the Portland, Oregon, or Vancouver, Washington, area, your llama dreams can now be turned into reality. Mtn Peaks Therapy Llamas & Alpacas is offering an exclusive service to brides and grooms who want to make sure their wedding is the most talked about event of the year. Because we mean, what’s more memorable than some dressed up alpacas at your reception?

Here is the story, from a bridal magazine, good photos at the link, via Catherine Rampell and also Jodi Ettenberg.  Meanwhile I found this of interest:

A poll from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) of young Americans ages 18-to-25 shows that almost no millennials want a career in construction — a high-paying industry. 64 percent of these millennials said they wouldn’t even consider working in construction if you paid them $100,000 or more.

74 percent of young adults know what career field they want to pursue, and of these millennials, just 3 percent want a career in construction trades. What’s more stunning is that of the 26 percent who don’t know what career they want, 63 percent of these undecided millennials said there was “no or little chance regardless of pay” that they would work in construction trades.

That article is via Douglas Wolf, see also Bob Samuelson on millennials.

What if they can clone your voice?

It’s a Canadian company that specializes in speech synthesis software. They’ve developed software they claim can copy anyone’s voice and make it say anything.

The founders tell me if they can get a high-quality recording of you speaking for just one minute, their software can replicate your voice with very high accuracy.

If they get a recording of you speaking for five minutes, they say it would be difficult to tell the difference between your voice and their computer-generated mimic. That’s where the name Lyrebird comes from: a lyrebird is an Australian bird that’s noted for its mimicry.

Here is the story, as they say solve for the equilibrium…

Confidential business conversations over the telephone might dwindle, and perhaps we will have Peter Cushing and Humphrey Bogart movies for a long time to come.  What else?

For the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

A Clark Award for economic history

I refer you to the excellent post by A Fine Theorem on David Donaldson, here is one excerpt:

Donaldson’s CV is a testament to how difficult this style of work is. He spent eight years at LSE before getting his PhD, and published only one paper in a peer reviewed journal in the 13 years following the start of his graduate work. “Railroads of the Raj” has been forthcoming at the AER for literally half a decade, despite the fact that this work is the core of what got Donaldson a junior position at MIT and a tenured position at Stanford. Is it any wonder that so few young economists want to pursue a style of research that is so challenging and so difficult to publish? Let us hope that Donaldson’s award encourages more of us to fully exploit both the incredible data we all now have access to, but also the beautiful body of theory that induces deep insights from that data.

The post is superb, yet A Fine Theorem remains underrated.