Month: June 2017

Friday assorted links

1. Who’s complacent?: Here is a debate, with one side, @dhh, arguing for less work.  Check out @rabois for a contrasting point of view.

2. When animals fight each other, are they using even remotely optimal strategies?  Or could a Big Data-equipped smart coach improve their performance significantly?

3. Strategies for selecting out hostile jurors (NYT).

4. Is Bleecker St. the new Rust Belt? (NYT)

5. Reddit AMA with a lead server at a two-star Michelin restaurant in NYC.

6. Are state budget cuts at fault for rising tuition?

Planet Earth fact of the day

China is far and away the global leader in greenhouse gas emissions, and for all of the EU’s stern tone and finger wagging on climate change, the bloc’s latest data show that its emissions actually increased 0.5 percent in 2015. Contrast that with the United States, which saw emissions drop a whopping 3 percent last year as a result of the continuing (shale-enabled) transition from coal to natural gas.

That is from Jamie Horgan at The American Interest, who makes many other good points, including this:

One’s opinion of the new climate course Trump just charted for America will ultimately depend on how much faith one puts in climate diplomacy as the holy grail for addressing climate change. The truth is, climate diplomacy has always been more about preening, posturing, and moralizing—about optics—above all else. What happened today was also all about optics (intentionally so) and that’s why greens committed to finding “diplomatic” solutions are pulling their hair out today.

I still think it was a mistake to pull out, as “bad optics” are one form of “bad.”  Most of all, Trump’s action contributes to the common and growing perception that America simply isn’t reliable.  But have any market prices indicated that the world’s future is now likely to be more carbon-intensive?  I just don’t see it.

The most important truth about hard work, and also reading, that you can find

Now for the matter of drive. You observe that most great scientists have tremendous drive. I worked for ten years with John Tukey at Bell Labs. He had tremendous drive. One day about three or four years after I joined, I discovered that John Tukey was slightly younger than I was. John was a genius and I clearly was not. Well I went storming into Bode’s office and said, “How can anybody my age know as much as John Tukey does?” He leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head, grinned slightly, and said, “You would be surprised Hamming, how much you would know if you worked as hard as he did that many years.” I simply slunk out of the office!

What Bode was saying was this: “Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest.” Given two people of approximately the same ability and one person who works ten percent more than the other, the latter will more than twice outproduce the former. The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity – it is very much like compound interest. I don’t want to give you a rate, but it is a very high rate. Given two people with exactly the same ability, the one person who manages day in and day out to get in one more hour of thinking will be tremendously more productive over a lifetime. I took Bode’s remark to heart; I spent a good deal more of my time for some years trying to work a bit harder and I found, in fact, I could get more work done. I don’t like to say it in front of my wife, but I did sort of neglect her sometimes; I needed to study. You have to neglect things if you intend to get what you want done. There’s no question about this.

That is from Richard W. Hamming, invaluable throughout.  Hat tip is from Patrick Collison.  Here is the book by Hamming.

Would deregulated building lead to higher urban density?

Maybe not if deregulation is across the board:

Were we to unilaterally liberalize zoning, some builders would see new opportunities in Manhattan. But it seems far more likely gazillions of suburban folks would see the benefit to building a cheap extra unit in the yard and renting it.

In terms of raw potential, it seems quite likely there is more “zoning-prevented housing” in the suburbs or in fairly low-density areas than in already high-density ones. The result could easily be that uniform upzoning boosts metro-wide population, but also causes a shift of population out of the center, into the ‘burbs, where geography may prove less of a constraint. The fact that less-regulated places also seem to be less dense suggests that this outcome is at a minimum plausible. That is to say, if density is your goal, deregulation may be a very uncertain way to get there because, while there may well be demand for urban cores (maybe), land use rules are just one of many supply constraints. Geography, higher construction costs, large existing investments, and the dramatically lower costs to adding equivalent supply in the ‘burbs all combine to suggest blanket liberalization could cause the typical household to reside in a less dense neighborhood than they did under stricter regulation.

That is from a partially confused but still interesting short essay by Lyman Stone.  Here are some criticisms of the piece.

Thursday assorted links

1. Why is there sex segregation for cheese rolling?

2. MIE: Groper insurance, for those accused of such behavior on Japanese trains.  Talk about moral hazard…

3. Krugman notes on bilateral imbalances, with respect to Germany (pdf).

4. I am interviewed by the Swiss on-line periodical Watson (in German).

5. Over 1200 “covfefe” products on Amazon — “Did you mean: “coffee””?

6. Relatively masculine and relatively feminine activities, across societies.

Those new service sector jobs average is over spelling bee tutor edition

In the world of competitive spellers, Sylvie Lamontagne is known as a juggernaut. She placed fourth in last year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee, and ninth in 2015. Last summer, she traveled to California and won the Spelling Bee of China’s North America Spelling Champion Challenge, a contest for kids in the United States and China.

Now that the 14-year-old from Denver is no longer eligible to compete in this week’s National Spelling Bee at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Maryland — which is televised on ESPN and often turns kids like Sylvie into momentary celebrities — she’s focusing on a new vocation: spelling bee coach.

Sylvie’s rate? $200 an hour.

Hiring coaches isn’t new. But bee aficionados say a recent surge in competition, and a tightening of rules meant to limit co-champions, has spawned a demand for younger coaches such as Sylvie: high-schoolers or college kids, months or just a few years into their bee retirement, who can pass along fresh intelligence on words to memorize and how to decode bizarre words based on their language of origin.

That is from Ian Shapira at WaPo.

Should the federal government be paying more or less overhead to universities?

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

…it is possible to imagine an alternative vision where federal overhead allocations fall and the liberated money allows more scientists to get more (smaller) grants. Would that be a good idea?

If we look to the private sector as a model, maybe so. Private philanthropy is typically more oriented toward specific projects than toward overhead. One view is that makes federal government funding of overhead all the more important to fill in the gaps; an alternative take is that the private sector realizes a lot of overhead funding ends up wasted, and the federal government ought to see the same. There is some truth to both of these stories, but not surprisingly the academic scientific community is stressing the former.

Research funds spent on overhead strengthen the power and discretion of administrators (who capture and allocate the funds), senior scientists, the lab-based sciences and relatively expensive projects. They make universities more hierarchical and less egalitarian places, where the ability to bring in overhead funds yields status and influence.

Spending less on overhead and more on individual projects would favor small-scale research, and would decentralize authority and influence. Lower overhead allocations would give the government more authority over project choice, and the university less discretion, for better or worse. Overall, projects would have to prove themselves more in the broader world of prizes, donors and news coverage, rather than lobbying within the university for support.

A mixed bag of course — there is much more at the link.

New issue of Econ Journal Watch

A king cursed: Kenneth Rogoff’s The Curse of Cash is assayed by Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, and Rogoff responds.
Stationarity problem: Brendan Beare criticizes a Journal of Econometrics article purporting to model a time series of densities as a nonstationary cointegrated process.
Music piracy coda: Stan Liebowitz replies to Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Koleman Strumpf.
Got entrepreneurship yet?: Dan Johansson and Arvid Malm search textbooks and assigned readings at top Econ Ph.D. programs.
New entries extend the Classical Liberalism in Econ, by Country series to 15 articles:
My Most Regretted Statements, a symposium, contains these contributions:
  • Monique Bégin tells of a statement she often repeated in her time as Canada’s Minister of National Health & Welfare: “Canada is the Sweden of the Americas.”
  • Michael Boskin reflects on his time as Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and the hazards of misattribution, of not controlling op-ed titles, and of equations going missing.
  • Tyler Cowen reflects on his circa 2007 underestimation of the likelihood of a major financial crisis.
  • Jon Elster draws from his work on defective belief formation, illustrating with his own past errors, including about the electorate binding itself and about thinking of anti-communists “as a clock that is always one hour late rather than as a broken clock that shows the right time twice a day.”
  • Richard Epstein tells of his conversion to consequentialism.
  • Sam Peltzman relates his hardy forecast in 1988 of Michael Dukakis’s impending victory over George H. W. Bush.
  • Cass Sunstein begins: “I have said a lot of things that I regret.” And he ends: “A main job of academics is to float ideas and take risks, and if they do not make mistakes, or learn enough to change their minds, well, that’s really something to regret.”
Access the symposium here.
EJW Audio